Two men have been charged with trafficking in protected wildlife by shipping 100 tons of coral and "live rock" from Hawaii to Los Angeles, where the items were sold as decorations for aquariums, federal prosecutors said Thursday.
John Marquardsen, 50, of Haleiwa, Hawaii, was accused of systematically removing the coral and live rock from the reef system of Kaneohe Bay on the island of Oahu over a three-year period. Live rock is any geological matter to which a live organism or plant has attached itself. Hawaii has long prohibited the removal of coral and live rock from its coastal waters.
The contraband, valued at about $1 million, was sent to L.A. by air freight in packages falsely labeled as smoked fish or smoked seafood, said Assistant U.S. Atty. William W. Carter.
Rodolfo Tagle, 50, of Santa Ana received the shipments when they arrived at Los Angeles International Airport and sold the coral and rock to marine supply stores, the prosecutor said.
Tagle and Marquardsen are scheduled to be arraigned in Los Angeles next month on a 49-count indictment.
Aside from violating Hawaiian and U.S. laws, Carter said, the poaching caused more than $5-million damage to the Kaneohe Bay's reef system.
Three other defendants previously pleaded guilty in the case. They include a Hawaiian man who helped package the coral and live rock, and two men from Southern California who helped distribute the material in the Southland.