6 Sentenced for Illegally Trafficking Corals from the Philippines

6 Sentenced for Illegally Trafficking Corals from the Philippines

ANCHORAGE – On April 4, 2023, a Colorado man was sentenced on charges related to violations of the Lacey Act and smuggling protected marine corals from the Philippines into the United States for retail sale.

Veleriy V. Gorbounov, 45, of Morrison, Colorado was sentenced this week by U.S. District Court Judge Joshua Kindred to a term of probation of two years, the payment of a fine of $4,000 to a Philippines based organization dedicated to coral reef restoration and being prohibited from engaging in the sale of marine corals for his role in illegally importing endangered coral from the Philippines for sale. Gorbounov is one of 8 defendants charged in the District of Alaska for illegally importing corals from the Philippines for retail sale.

In April, 2022, prosecutors charged Jerome Anthony Stringfield, 43, of Kissimmee, Florida; Albert B. Correira, 35, of Westport, Massachusetts; and Allen William Ockey, 35, of Long Beach, California, with felony violations of conspiracy, violations of the Lacey Act and smuggling of corals from the Philippines. Ockey pleaded guilty to Wildlife Trafficking felony charges and was sentenced to a term of two years’ probation and required to pay a donation to a Phillipines organization dedicated to coral reef restoration in the amount of $5,000. Defendant Stringfield and Correira’s cases remains pending.

In separate filings, the following individuals were each charged with misdemeanor offenses related to violations of the Lacey Act: Derek M. Kelley, 31, of Elkhart, Indiana; James Knight, 47, of Newaygo, Michigan; Valeriy V. Gorbounov, 46, of Morrison, Colorado; Nathan C. Meisner, 35, of Rapid City, South Dakota; and Ricky A. Sprires, 34, of Gilbert South Carolina. Each of these defendants have plead guilty to Wildlife Trafficking under the Lacey Act and were sentenced to terms of probation of two years, required to pay contributions to a Philippine-based coral reef restoration organization in amounts varying from $2,000 to $4,000 and conditions that they do not import or sell corals for the term of probation.

The indictment and separate filings all alleged that between July 2017 and August 2018, the defendants paid a Philippine national to dive for and collect protected marine corals which they would then sell online to coral collectors and hobbyists. They further alleged that some corals were illegally sold in violation of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) which is an international treaty implemented to prevent species from becoming endangered or extinct because of international commercial trade. Additionally, Philippine law prohibits any person to gather, possess, commercially transport, sell or export corals commercially regardless of CITES status. In total, the defendants, through their Philippine supplier, illegally purchased and transported for sale more than 3,000 separate pieces of coral in violation of Philippines and United States law.

The charging documents in all cases states that the Republic of the Philippines is one of six countries straddling the Coral Triangle, a 5.4 million-square-kilometer stretch of ocean that contains 75% of the world’s coral species, one-third of the Earth’s coral reefs and more than 3,000 species of fish. Poaching for corals and other factors have left only 5% of coral reefs in the Philippines in “excellent” condition, with only 1% in a “pristine” state. 

The supplier in the Philippines, Glenn Albert Binoya, a Philippines national, was charged by the Republic of the Philippines after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service contacted Philippine authorities about their investigation. Binoya, 47, died of unrelated medical issues prior to resolution of his case.

 “This office and the Department of Justice will pursue state, national and transnational wildlife trafficking regardless of location,” said United States Attorney S. Lane Tucker, District of Alaska. “Through our partnership with the Fish and Wildlife Service these traffickers have been brought to justice.’

U.S. Attorney S. Lane Tucker of the District of Alaska made the announcement.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Office of Law Enforcement is investigating the case.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Skrocki is prosecuting the cases.

An indictment is merely an allegation and all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

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