FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASEENRD
WEDNESDAY MAY 31, 2000(202) 514-2008
WWW.USDOJ.GOVTDD (202) 514-1888
FOUR INDICTED IN CONSPIRACY TO
SMUGGLE LOBSTERS INTO U.S.
WASHINGTON -- A federal grand jury in Mobile, Ala., has returned an indictment charging four individuals with smuggling into the United States numerous shipments of lobster that were harvested in violation of Honduran laws. The defendants, David Henson McNab of Honduras, Robert D. Blandford and Abner J. Schoenwetter of Florida, and Dianne H. Huang of New Jersey, also are charged with conspiracy.
According to the indictment, from 1995 through May 2000, the defendants engaged in a conspiracy to import into the United States Caribbean spiny lobster tails and shrimp harvested in Honduras, in violation of Honduran regulations designed to preserve a sustainable lobster fishery. Once in the United States, the conspirators sold the illegal lobster tails to U.S. seafood companies.
McNab owns one of the largest fleets of lobster-fishing vessels in Honduras, and the indictment charges that workers on McNab's vessels harvested lobster that were under the legal size limit set by Honduras. They also harvested egg-bearing lobsters in violation of Honduran regulations and harvested lobster and shrimp during the closed seasons set by Honduras. To conceal the catch of egg-bearing lobsters, the parts of the lobster tails to which the eggs were attached were clipped off.
Blandford and his associate Schoenwetter allegedly agreed to buy the lobster tails from McNab's company, according to the indictment. Once in the United States, Blandford or Schoenwetter would sell the lobster tails to American seafood companies, particularly the company that employed Huang. On occasion, some of the undersized lobster were transported into Florida, in violation of the state's lobster-size regulations. Blandford, Schoenwetter and Huang often received commissions or agent fees for their roles in the illegal importations.
In addition, Blandford and Huang are charged with violations of the Lacey Act, a federal wildlife statute; McNab and Blandford are charged with money laundering violations; and Blandford and Schoenwetter are charged with obstruction of justice. The smuggling and Lacey Act violations are punishable by up to 5 years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine, while the money laundering and obstruction violations are punishable by up to 10 years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine. McNab, Blandford and Huang were arrested last week and will be arraigned shortly. Schoenwetter turned himself in to the United States Marshal's office in Mobile on Tuesday.
The Caribbean (or Florida) spiny lobster (Panulirus argus) is found in salt waters from Florida to Brazil, including the waters off Honduras, comprising one of the world's largest commercial lobster fisheries. Biologists believe that the offspring of lobster populations off the Western Caribbean coast, including Honduras, are key sources for replenishing the lobster stocks in the Southeast United States.
The spiny lobster is one of Honduras' most important natural resources, and the country regulates the commercial fishing of spiny lobster in order to prevent the exploitation and collapse of this resource. The United States, as the largest importer and consumer of Honduran spiny lobster, also has a significant interest in a commercially sustainable harvest.
The investigation of this case was lead by Special Agents of the National Marine Fisheries Service, with assistance from the FBI and the IRS. The case is being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney's Office, Southern District of Alabama, with the assistance of the Wildlife and Marine Resources Section of the U.S. Department of Justice.
An indictment is a formal accusation and is not proof of guilt. Defendants are presumed innocent until and unless they are found guilty.