Under the sentence, handed down last week, Ashu Bhandari will serve one month in jail followed by one month of home confinement and one year of supervised release for his role in the scheme involving GEM Manufacturing LLC. Bhandari is also required to complete 300 hours of community service and is banned from any business venture involving coral or coral products.

“Mr. Bhandari actively participated in an illegal scheme to traffic in protected black coral, a trade that has helped deplete a world resource that serves as essential habitat for marine biodiversity,” Ignacia S. Moreno, Assistant Attorney General for the Environment and Natural Resources Division at the Department of Justice, said in a prepared statement.

Bhandari pleaded guilty to one felony count of false classification of goods in November 2012.

Black corals are considered important habitat for the deep sea marine environment and are protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora and are subject to trade regulations.

Often used in inlaid jewelry, black coral is found in deep waters and many species have long life spans and are slow-growing. In the last few decades, pressures from overharvesting, due in part to the wider availability of scuba gear and the introduction of invasive species have threatened this group of coral. Recent seizures of illegal black coral around the world have led many to believe that black coral poaching is on the rise, according to the Department of Justice.

GEM manufactured high-end jewelry and sculpture products using black coral. During his term as CEO, Bhandari was responsible for ensuring the continued supply of raw black coral for the company, Justice officials said.

According to authorities, Bhandari learned that GEM’s black coral sources in Taiwan couldn’t obtain CITES certificates showing the material was legitimate . In spite of this knowledge, Bhandari decided to go forward with the Taiwanese suppliers, who labeled the coral shipments as “plastic” in order to fool customs authorities in Hong Kong and the United States.

The investigation, which developed as a result of Operation “Black Gold,” was the culmination of a three-year joint investigation led by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Office of Law Enforcement in partnership with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement-Homeland Security Investigations, U.S. Attorney’s Office, the U.S. Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division and U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

In October 2011, GEM Manufacturing was sentenced to criminal financial penalties and forfeitures of $4.47 million and three and a half years of probation and was also banned from doing business with coral supplier, Peng Chia Enterprise Co. Ltd. and its management team of Ivan and Gloria Chu.

Federal agents arrested the Chus in January 2010 as part of a sting operation in Las Vegas. The Chus were subsequently indicted in 2010 for illegally providing black coral to GEM. Ivan Chu was sentenced to serve 30 months in prison and pay a $12,500 fine. Gloria Chu was sentenced to serve 20 months in prison and pay a $12,500 fine.