Two Inglewood companies face $1-million fines for smuggling protected live corals from Vietnam

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This photo taken on June 3, 2022 shows fish next to corals off Hon Mun island in Vietnam's Nha Trang Bay. - Vietnam has banned swimming and scuba diving in a popular central tourist spot in an attempt to revive the damaged coral reef, officials said June 27. (Photo by Quang DUC / AFP) (Photo by QUANG DUC/AFP via Getty Images)
Live corals are pictured off Hon Mun island in Vietnam's Nha Trang Bay in June. (Quang Duc / AFP/Getty Images)

Two Inglewood marine wildlife companies pleaded guilty in federal court this week to illegally importing live coral from Vietnam, prosecutors said.

Renaissance Aquatics Inc. and Lim Aqua-Nautic Specialist Inc. each pleaded guilty to two felony counts of illegally importing the coral between 2012 and 2013.

Renaissance Aquatics operated as a retailer of live animals and was an agent for Lim Aqua-Nautic, a wildlife wholesaler.

"The companies imported marine life from foreign suppliers, then sold and shipped marine life within and outside the United States," the U.S. attorney's office for the Central District of California said in a release Wednesday. "Both companies were located within the same commercial building in Inglewood."

Renaissance employees placed orders with foreign suppliers for specimens, including coral, while Aqua-Nautic provided payments, picked the orders up from Los Angeles International Airport and stored them, prosecutors said.

The orders that Renaissance imported orders from a Vietnamese supplier included live stony corals, which are protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) but can be legally imported if certain declarations and identifications are made to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

"Renaissance neither declared the live stony corals in the shipments from Vietnam nor provided the required CITES documentation for them," prosecutors said. "Renaissance caused its customs broker to submit to the USFWS a misleading [document] that intentionally omitted the live stony corals and listed inaccurate prices."

Additionally, the shipments themselves were packed so as to hide the corals under properly declared wildlife.

From May 2012 to March 2013, Renaissance illegally imported at least eight such shipments.

The two companies are set to be sentenced in November; each faces as much as five years' probation and a $1-million fine.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.