Drug smuggling is old news in South Florida, but what about tree smuggling?
Four South Florida residents face federal charges of sneaking hundreds of citrus trees to retailers in at least seven states in violation of a quarantine to stop the spread of citrus canker and citrus greening.
Charged with conspiring to ship quarantined plants across state lines were Randall Linkous, owner of Valico Nurseries of Boynton Beach, and his daughter, Andrea Moreira; and Dale Leblang and David Peskind, co-owners of Allied Growers Inc. of Fort Lauderdale, a plant shipping company
A federal plant inspector caught wind of the illegal shipments while checking the inventory of a store in Naperville, Ill., where the inspector found 48 Calamondin citrus plants falsely described in a shipping manifest as "Palm Majesty" plants, according to papers filed by federal prosecutors and agricultural officials.
The manifest came from Allied.
When asked about the discrepancy, Leblang said Linkous approached Allied about selling his trees, which then were sitting unsold in his nursery because of the federal quarantine.
Allied agreed to provide false shipping and billing papers to conceal the trees' identity, according to the court papers. They shipped at least 252 Calamondin trees to dealers in Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Missouri, Ohio and South Carolina.
The tree, which bears a fruit a little smaller than a golf ball, is popular in the North for its ability to tolerate the cold.
The four face up to five years in prison if found to have violated a law intended to halt the spread of agricultural diseases.
Michael Gottlieb, attorney for the Allied owners, called the case "a very unfortunate circumstance, that after 30 years in business with perfectly clean records these gentlemen are being prosecuted for what should be viewed as a minor infraction."
Grey Tesh, attorney for Moreira, said she worked at the company part-time and played at most a "minor role" in what happened. Linkous' attorney could not be reached for comment.