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Source: DOJ (2)

Feb. 23 2021, Updated 8:37 p.m. ET

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 A Puerto Rico man found himself in hot water for the illegal sale of ocean reef life. 

Aristides Sanchez was sentenced to a year and a day in federal prison for trafficking protected reef creatures, according to the Department of Justice.

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From 2013 through 2016, Sanchez was the owner of an aquarium business called Wonders of the Reef Aquarium, which sold native Puerto Rican marine species to customers in the United States and other countries.

Sanchez sent at least 130 shipments of falsely labeled marine species that were harvested illegally. He sold them for $25 to $50 each, and their total value was at least $800,000, federal prosecutors said.  

One of the most popular items he sent was a coral-like organism, commonly known as “rics,” “polyps,” or “mushrooms.” They’re items are popular because they glow under UV lights.

It is illegal to harvest these animals in Puerto Rico if they’re going to be sold commercially or sent off the island.

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These creatures spend their adult lives fastened to coral reefs, so Sanchez would use a hammer and chisel to break off the animals, taking chunks of the fragile reef with them, according to court documents.

He also purchased “polyps” from others, knowing or suspecting they were harvested illegally, prosecutors said. 

Since what he was sending was illegal, Sanchez would falsely label his packages to avoid detection, according to court records. He called these animals “pet supplies,” “aquarium supplies,” “LED lights” or other inanimate objects on shipping labels.

In addition to one year and one day in prison, Sanchez has been sentenced to two years of supervised release and 120 hours of community service. He is also banned from collecting or procuring marine life, shipping marine life or scuba diving and snorkeling in Puerto Rico.


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