Court judge sentenced four Palm Beach County, Fla., residents for violating federal plant quarantines when they shipped more than 1,650 citrus trees out of the state.

Since 2008, a federal quarantine has barred the interstate movement of citrus trees from Florida to slow the spread of citrus canker and citrus greening, bacterial diseases devastating to citrus but harmless to humans.

Andrew Meadows, communications director for Lakeland, Fla.-based Florida Citrus Mutual, said the July 27 court ruling should send a strong message.

“These quarantines are in place for a reason ― to protect the domestic citrus industry from pests and diseases ― so we’re encouraged to see the justice department enforcing the rules,” he said.

In March 2011, U.S. Department of Agriculture inspectors found calamondin trees, a cold-hardy type of citrus related to kumquats, being sold in Ohio and Illinois, according to a Department of Justice news release.

Further investigation found nurseries in at least five other states had received calamondin plants. All told, more than 1,650 trees, with a retail value of more than $37,000, were involved.

Defendants Dale Leblang and David Peskind, owners of Allied Growers Inc., Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., admitted they were aware of the quarantine and that’s why they falsely invoiced the plants, according to the release.

The plants originated from Valico Nurseries Inc., Pompano Beach, Fla., owned and operated by co-defendants Randall Linkous and his daughter Andrea Moreira.

Valico had labeled the trees as an unrestricted species so they wouldn’t fall under the quarantine, according to the release.

Judge James Cohn, who had earlier accepted guilty pleas from the four, sentenced Linkous to one year’s probation, including six months’ home confinement with an electronic monitoring device and 100 hours of community service. He also is prohibited from being involved in plant sales without the court’s permission.

Moreira received one year’s probation, 50 hours of community service and a similar employment restriction.

Leblang and Peskind each were ordered to serve one year’s probation.