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Feds charge Miami men with illegally taking marine life from the Keys marine sanctuary

Taking live rock from waters of the Keys sanctuary has been prohibited for decades, except from licensed nursery areas.
Taking live rock from waters of the Keys sanctuary has been prohibited for decades, except from licensed nursery areas. Miami Herald File / Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary

Two operators of a Miami marine-life company will face federal charges of illegally taking and selling live rock from the Florida Keys, according to a case filed last week by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Miami.

Robert V. Kelton and Bruce Brande could face maximum sentences of five years in prison on each of two felony counts: Conspiracy to take protected species from the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and filing fraudulent records on interstate sales.

Kelton is listed as president of D.R. Imports Inc., which employed Brande as general manager, the information filed by Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas A. Watts-FitzGerald says.

The two are accused of conspiring to collect and sell live rock "illegally harvested from [the sanctuary] in interstate commerce for their financial gain."

Live rock is fossilized coral-reef rock that has been covered by colorful coralline algae that is prized by saltwater aquarium owners. The live rock improves the appearance of the aquarium while providing biological benefits, aquarist references say.

Taking live rock from waters of the Keys sanctuary has been prohibited for decades, except from licensed nursery areas.

The case will be heard by U.S. District Judge Jose E. Martinez at the Key West federal courthouse. No hearing dates were posted at press time.

In February 2008, Felton and Brande arranged and shipped a consignment of live rock to Wisconsin, with a wholesale value of about $4,300, the information says. Some of the rocks apparently had been tagged by federal agents with tracking devices.

In June 2011, Brande and Kelton are accused of agreeing to "supply a false invoice" that described a shipment of Keys live rock as having been legally imported from Haiti.

Several marine-life collectors have been charged with various federal violations as a result of a multi-year investigation into Keys oceanic poaching called Operation Rock Bottom.

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