Three Fishermen, Seafood Wholesaler and Associated Employees Indicted for Obstruction of Justice and the Illegal Harvest and Sale of New Jersey Oysters
WASHINGTON – A 15-count indictment returned by a federal grand jury in Camden, N.J., was unsealed today following the arrest of six individuals from New Jersey and Maryland, and the seizure or restraint of 10 oyster fishing boats in New Jersey, announced Ignacia S. Moreno, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, and Paul J. Fishman, U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey.
The indictment charges the six individuals and two related companies with creating false reports and records of harvested oysters, trafficking in illegally harvested oysters, obstruction of justice, and charges five of the individuals and the two companies with conspiracy to commit those crimes.
The individuals charged were Thomas Reeves, Todd Reeves, and Renee Reeves, of Port Norris, N.J.; Kenneth W. Bailey of Heislerville, N.J.; Mark Bryan of New Market, Md.; and Pamela Meloney of Secretary, Md. The charged businesses are Reeves Brothers in Port Norris, N.J., which is owned and operated by Thomas and Todd Reeves and Harbor House Seafood in Seaford, Del., which is co-owned by Mark Bryan.
According to the indictment, from 2004 through 2007, Thomas and Todd Reeves were oyster fishermen who owned the oyster dealer business Reeves Brothers where Renee Reeves worked. The Reeves would create reports and records required by state and federal law that claimed they harvested fewer oysters than they actually did, and they would take more oysters from the Delaware Bay than they were allowed under New Jersey law. The fair market retail value of the Reeves’ illegal harvest during this time was well in excess of $600,000, and they over-harvested their quota in some years by as much as 90 percent.
Also alleged in the indictment, to help hide their illegal harvest, the Reeves, and Mark Bryan and Pamela Meloney at Harbor House, would create and maintain records that falsely indicated the amount of oysters the Reeves actually sold to Harbor House. To help prevent the discovery of their actions, Bryan and Meloney provided to law enforcement officers investigating the matter records of Harbor House’s purchases from the Reeves that Bryan and Meloney knew were false.
The indictment alleges that Bryan and Meloney created false records of Harbor House’s purchases from another Port Norris area oyster fisherman, Kenneth W. Bailey. Like the Reeves, in 2006 and 2007, Bailey would create reports and records required by state and federal law that claimed he harvested fewer oysters than he actually did, and he would take more oysters from the Delaware Bay than allowed under New Jersey law.
The indictment identifies 10 vessels that were used by the Reeves and/or Bailey to engage in their illegal harvest, and that are therefore subject to forfeiture to the United States upon a conviction of some of the offenses charged in the indictment. To ensure that the vessels are available for forfeiture in the same condition that they presently are, five of these vessels (the Janet R, Amanda Laurnen, Miss Lill, Crab Daddy and Conch Emperor) were seized by the U.S. Marshals. The other five vessels (the Martha Meerwald, Louise Ockers, Linda W, Turkey Jack and Beverly Ray Bailey) have been made subject to a restraining order that prohibits their use or operation pending the outcome of the trial.
An indictment is merely an accusation, and a defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law.
The maximum penalty for five of the obstruction of justice counts is up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, for the individuals. The maximum penalty for each of the remaining violations by the individuals includes up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The maximum penalty for the corporations is up to five years of probation and a fine in an amount that is the greater of $500,000 or twice the gross gain, for each count.
The case was investigated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Office of Law Enforcement, and The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, Division of Fish and Wildlife. The case is being prosecuted by Wayne D. Hettenbach of the Environmental Crimes Section of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew T. Smith of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Jersey.