LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — Three men were indicted on federal charges of smuggling live corals that are protected by an international treaty but are frequently used to decorate aquariums in Pringles chips cans.

The indictments allege the defendants violated various federal statutes, including smuggling laws, the Endangered Species Act and a conservation statute known as the Lacey Act.

“The mountains, plains and oceans of this planet are under constant assault from those who would harvest these resources without end,” said acting United States Attorney Sandra R. Brown. “The corals in these cases were being trafficked for the sole purpose of decorating fish tanks.”

Jose Torres, 42, of Gardena, faces charges of trying to export some 20 varieties of live corals protected by the Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora – known as CITES – into Mexico, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

A second indictment charged 39-year-old Jose Vazquez of Garden Grove with trying to export live, CITES-protected corals inside Pringles cans, which were put in Vazquez’s mother’s luggage for her to take to Mexico, and discovered during a baggage inspection, according to federal prosecutors.

Two Inglewood companies – Renaissance Aquatics Inc. and Lim Aqua-Nautic Specialist Inc. – and Chet Bryant, 37, of Houston were charged in a third indictment with smuggling live, CITES-protected corals from Vietnam and submitting false records to cover the smuggling operation.

The defendants will be summoned to appear for arraignment at the downtown federal courthouse in the coming weeks, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Each of the three indictments alleges multiple charges, including attempting to export wildlife contrary to law, a count that carries a possible penalty of up to 10 years in federal prison. Bryant is charged with seven counts of wildlife smuggling, each of which carries a potential maximum of 20 years behind bars.

(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)


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