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Assistant U. S. Attorney Melanie K. Pierson (619) 546-7976

NEWS RELEASE SUMMARY – December 14, 2020

SAN DIEGO – Tijuana resident John Jaimes Torres was sentenced in federal court today to six months in custody for smuggling protected sea cucumbers valued at more than $60,000 into the United States.

In November of 2019, Torres was discovered with 101 undeclared packages of sea cucumbers, totaling 145 kilograms, concealed in, under, and behind toolboxes in the bed of his truck. The sea cucumbers were of the species Isostichopus fuscus, which is protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).  In order to lawfully import these sea cucumbers, a CITES import/export permit and CITES certificate of origin was required, as well as an import/export license from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, none of which Torres possessed. 

As noted in court proceedings, in addition to the sea cucumbers, Torres possessed four cell phones. A search of these phones revealed evidence of prior smuggling events. For example, in July of 2019, Torres delivered more than 20 bags of sea cucumbers to a storage unit in the San Diego area. He sent a photo of the sea cucumbers in the storage unit to his client.

The search of the phones also indicated that Torres was an all-service smuggler, crossing food products, alcohol, medications and cigarettes in addition to the sea cucumbers, for profit. At the time he crossed the border, Torres was in possession of $1,600 in cash. In addition to the custodial sentence, Torres was also ordered to make restitution of $10,000 to the government of Mexico as compensation for the loss of its natural resources. Torres was ordered to self-surrender to begin serving his sentence on or before February 12, 2021.

“Scientists tell us that sea cucumbers play a critical role in keeping coral reef and other tropical ocean ecosystems healthy,” said U.S. Attorney Robert Brewer. “Unfortunately the black market for sea cucumbers is thriving, making these cases against smugglers even more important.” Brewer praised prosecutor Melanie Pierson and agents with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Office of Law Enforcement and Homeland Security Investigations and Customs and Border Protection for their excellent work on this case.

“The unlawful commercialization of living marine faunae, such as CITES-protected sea cucumbers, not only harms the individual species, but it promotes the destruction of ocean ecosystems that other wildlife depend on for survival,” said special agent in charge Dan Crum.  “Today’s sentencing sends a message that our law enforcement agents and prosecutors will continue to investigate, prosecute and bring to justice any violators who illegally exploit wildlife for profit.”

“The illegal sea cumber trade is a real problem, and illicit trafficking in protected species fuels crime and decimates protected wildlife populations,” said Cardell T. Morant, Special Agent in Charge of Homeland Security Investigations.  “This arrest and conviction demonstrates our commitment to work with our law enforcement partners to protect threatened and endangered species and bring justice to the criminals that seek to profit from their exploitation.”

DEFENDANT                                               Case Number 19cr4848-W                                      

John Jaimes Torres                                          Age: 52                                   Tijuana, Mexico

SUMMARY OF CHARGES

Count 1

Conspiracy – Title 18, U.S.C., Sec. 371

Maximum penalty: Five years in prison and $250,000 fine

Counts 2-5

Smuggling/Importation Contrary to Law – Title 18, U.S.C., Sec.545

Maximum Penalty: Twenty years in prison and $250,000 fine

AGENCY

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Office of Law Enforcement

Homeland Security Investigations

Customs and Border Protection

MIL Security OSI