Michigan man gets federal prison in fish-taking case

kwadlow@keynoter.comApril 16, 2014 

A Michigan man was sentenced Monday to five months in federal prison for illegally buying and selling Florida Keys marine life.

Joseph Franko, 35, of Romulus, Mich., previously pleaded guilty in connection with the Operation Rock Bottom investigation.

In Key West, U.S. District Judge Jose E. Martinez imposed the five-month prison term, followed by five months of house arrest and two years of probation.

Franko worked at Tropicorium, a Michigan aquarium-supply business, with owner Richard Perrin.

Both were charged with illegally taking nurse sharks, angelfish and other species from the Keys during a 2011 trip. They also were charged with removing juvenile alligators from the Big Cypress National Preserve.

Perrin, 80, was earlier sentenced to three years of probation, fined $15,000 and forfeited a van.

In a related case Monday in Key West, Idaho Aquarium Inc. was formally fined $10,000, placed on probation for three years, and ordered to donate $50,000 for Keys marine restoration.

Two former officers of the private nonprofit tried to purchase protected eagle rays and lemon sharks, among other species. Both the Tropicorium and Idaho Aquarium cases were linked to Key Marine Inc., a closed fish-collecting business on Grassy Key. Federal authorities raided Key Marine in 2011.

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