It's a bad time to be skirting the rules about harvesting endangered coral and live rock in the Keys. A multi-year investigation called "Operation Rock Bottom" has already netted more than half a dozen indictments of businessmen accused of illegally selling the protected marine life. Two Miami men are the latest to fall into the federal dragnet.
Prosecutors say Robert Kelton and Bruce Brande snuck thousands of dollars worth of live rock out of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and then resold it in Wisconsin.
Kelton and Brande operated a business called D.R. Imports, a firm registered in a warehouse in Doral, according to state records.
The business sold live rock and other marine life around the country; enthusiast message boards show the firm was well known among collectors dating back at least to 2008.
On at least two occasions, though, the feds say the Miami men harvested live rock from the marine sanctuary, later reselling it for more than $4,300.
The first illegal sale allegedly took place in 2008 for a large shipment sent to Wisconsin. Three years later, the feds say, the men fudged their records to show another illegally harvested shipment had come from Haiti, instead of from the protected Keys waters.
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The arrests are just the latest from the federal crackdown aimed at businesses profiting off Keys sanctuaries. At least four men are already serving federal prison terms connected to cases from the investigation, Keysnet reports.
The case sparked with a 2011 raid on a Grassy Key business called Key Marine Inc. and has spiraled to net a number of businesses tied to illegally selling coral, live rock and other marine life. And the latest arrests aren't likely to be the last.
"A number of these cases are still progressing through the courts," Jeff Radonski, a South Florida special agent with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, tells Keysnet.