The Virgin Island Daily News reports that a US Magistrate agreed to recommend that the plea agreement of Ashu Bhandari, a St. Thomas jeweler charged with six felony counts of falsifying overseas shipments of black coral be reviewed by the presiding US District Judge, who previously rejected a plea deal between Bhandari’s company and the US Attorney. The judge will determine whether the court will accept the plea deal or continue to trial June 14.
Each count warrants up to five years imprisonment. The plea agreement assigns a $250,000 fine, or twice the gross gain or loss amassed by the unlawful enterprise – whichever amount is more.
Bhandari was in the business of importing raw black coral, according to the plea agreement. He sold high-end black coral jewelry and artwork.
The Endangered Species Act implements the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora includes all black coral species. The federal Lacey Act makes it a felony to falsely label wildlife intended for international commerce.