Florida Keys

Keys couple admits to illegally selling sharks out of their pet store

A bonnethead shark, similar to those involved in a federal conservation case from the Lower Keys. Bonnetheads in the Keys generally grow to about three feet in length.
A bonnethead shark, similar to those involved in a federal conservation case from the Lower Keys. Bonnetheads in the Keys generally grow to about three feet in length. Fish and Wildlife Service

The owners of a Big Pine Key marine-life company pleaded guilty Monday to one federal count of illegally purchasing and reselling bonnethead sharks.

Leah Gould and Phillip Gould run Florida Keys Marine Life Inc., a business that sells live fish and ornamental rock for public and private aquarium display.

A federal indictment filed in April charged the Goulds with three counts of violating the Lacey Act, which prohibits sale and interstate transport of illegally taken wildlife. All the sales took place in 2012, according to federal court records.

The unnamed person who sold more than 20 bonnethead sharks to the company lacked state or federal licenses to deal in live sharks, and apparently exceeded the possession limit. Dealers are required to ensure that sellers are legally licensed.

Several of the bonnethead sharks reportedly were sold to the St. Louis Zoo. Prosecutors with the U.S. Attorneys’ Office said the Goulds made a total of about $19,000 for the sharks they sold. They paid the harvester several thousand dollars.

Sentencing is scheduled for Oct. 3 before U.S. District Judge Jose E. Martinez in Key West. Plea-agreement records indicate federal sentencing guidelines recommend a sentence of one to 12 months in custody plus probation, but the final decision is up to the judge. The Goulds agreed to surrender nine bonnethead sharks in their possession and forfeit licenses needed to sell or possess sharks.

In 2014, federal prosecutors charged Little Torch Key resident Charles Jamison, now 77, with selling sharks to an unidentified “commercial marine-life facility on Big Pine Key” in 2012. Jamison, who was unlicensed, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 18 months of probation that was later shortened to 12 months. He forfeited his boat, motor and trailer, and paid a $2,000 fine.

Kevin Wadlow: 305-440-3206

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