Florida man pleads guilty to illegal coral imports
A Lake Park man has pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in West Palm Beach to charges of illegal importation of an estimated 500 pounds of live rock, coral and sea fans that had been illegally harvested from Bahamian waters
Lawrence Beckham, 57, pleaded guilty to charges stemming from an October 2002 incident in which a U.S. Coast Guard vessel intercepted the vessel Mary Anne for operating without the required navigation lights. When a Coast Guard crew boarded the vessel for an inspection, they discovered the coral in specially equipped live wells and in a converted fuel tank below a hatch cover in the main cabin, a Coast Guard statement said. Beckman and the crew were taken to the Coast Guard Station Lake Worth Inlet, and Beckman subsequently admitted to the Coast Guard boarding team that he had harvested the coral about one-and-a-half miles east of Sandy Cay, Bahamas, without having first obtained a permit. He said he gathered the specimens to sell in his aquarium supply business in Lake Park.
The government of the Bahamas prohibits any person from taking or selling hard or soft coral from its waters without obtaining a permit from the Ministry of Fisheries. The U.S. Lacy Act, the oldest national wildlife protection law in the United States, prohibits the possession, import and transport of wildlife — which includes live coral — that has been taken from a foreign country in violation of conservation laws.
“The conservation of marine ecosystems will always be a high priority for our fisheries enforcement program in District Seven,” said Lt. Chad Brick from the Miami-based Coast Guard District Seven Office of Law Enforcement. “Our relationship with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration continues to be a key element for effective enforcement.'
Beckman is scheduled to be sentenced Dec. 20. He faces a maximum sentence of up to five years in prison, $250,000 in fines, and three years probation. Under federal sentencing guidelines, it is unlikely he would be subjected to the maximum sentence.