Man found guilty of trying to smuggle live coral to Mexico

LOS ANGELES — A Gardena man who tried to smuggle an illegal shipment of protected live coral to Mexico was convicted of federal charges Thursday and faces up to 20 years in federal prison.

Jose Torres, 44, was convicted of attempting to illegally export wildlife and two counts of making and submitting a false record for wildlife intended to be exported, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Prosecutors said Torres claimed to be the owner of a company called Orca International and was contacted by Mexican firm that wanted to purchase fish and coral, but it did not want to wait to obtain required permits under a treaty known as the Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.

In an effort to fill the order, Torres went to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service office in Torrance on Jan. 31, 2013, and claimed he was shipping 16 cartons of fish, but he instead packed 40 boxes he knew to contain protected coral, prosecutors said.

He took the shipment to Los Angeles International Airport that night and gave AeroMexico the ill-gotten USFW paperwork to have the materials shipped to Mexico. Fish and Wildlife officials at the airport, however, inspected the packages and seized 474 undeclared items, including protected coral, prosecutors said.

Sentencing was scheduled for Feb. 10.

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