Two Plead Guilty to Illegally Taking Keys Coral

Two Broward County men pleaded guilty Friday to selling rainbow-colored coral taken from protected waters in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and peddling it as legally imported from Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

U.S. Attorney Wifredo Ferrer said Robert V. Kelton, 60, of Hollywood, and Bruce Brande, 59, of Cooper City, bought and sold mushroom coral and button polyps, both popular with aquarium keepers, through their Miami-based business, D.R. Imports, Inc., between 2006 and 2012. The pair doctored invoice bills for imported shipments of the coral and button polyps by more than $350,000 to cover up the illegal sales, the statement said.

It is illegal to move or damage live coral in the sanctuary, which covers 2,900 island-dappled square miles between Miami and the Dry Tortugas. The sanctuary was established in 1990 to protect the planet’s third largest barrier reef, along with miles of seagrass meadows.

Kelton and Brande are scheduled to be sentenced in Key West in on March 23 and face up to $500,000 in fines and five years in prison.