nenana man convicted by federal trial jury for fraudulent interstate sales of salmon strips
Fairbanks, Alaska – United States Attorney Karen Loeffler announced today, January 27, 2012, that Willis Scott Maxon, age 52, of Nenana, Alaska, was convicted after a three day jury trial in the United States District Court in Fairbanks of two counts of felony violations of the Lacey Act, for falsely identifying Alaskan smoked salmon strips that were being sold in interstate commerce.
Maxon and his wife conducted a salmon smoking operation, and have for the last five years, sold smoked salmon strips primarily at Alaska Native gatherings, including the conventions of the Alaska Federation of Natives in Anchorage, and the World Eskimo and Indian Olympics in Fairbanks. According to evidence presented at trial, the case arose from a federal and state investigation into the causes of the declining king salmon runs in the Yukon River in recent years. Maxon was found to be in possession of about 400 pounds of recently caught chum and coho salmon in October 2010, without any documentation to establish the lawful commercial origin of the fish. The product he sold at the conventions as Yukon River or Copper River king salmon was subjected to DNA analysis and found to be exclusively chum salmon. Maxon sold and shipped to an undercover U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service agent in Arizona 100 pounds of what he represented to be Yukon River king salmon smoked strips, but which DNA analysis proved were chum salmon. The trial evidence also showed that Maxon stated he regularly sold and shipped to out-of-state locations, thousands of pounds of king salmon strips.
Additional evidence presented at trial indicated that over a four-year period from 2007 through 2010, Maxon had purchased from Alaskan canneries and seafood processors over 16,000 pounds of raw salmon for conversion into strips which he then marketed within and outside Alaska. All his purchases in those years were exclusively chum salmon, although when conducting his 2009 and 2010 sales in this case, Maxon represented that his fish were exclusively Yukon River or Copper River king salmon or Copper River red salmon. The evidence further showed that on average, the value of raw king salmon is five times that of raw chum salmon, and that king smoked strips generally sell for two to three times the price of chum strips. Maxon sold his chum strips as king strips, for the market price of king strips.
Assistant United States Attorney Stephen Cooper presented the case in court. Chief United States District Court Judge Ralph R. Beistline presided at the trial, and has set the sentencing to take place in federal court in Fairbanks on April 6, 2010, at 9:00 a.m. Under the applicable law, Maxon faces a maximum total sentence of five years in prison, a fine of $250,000, or both. Under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, the actual sentence imposed will be based upon the seriousness of the offense(s) and the prior criminal history, if any, of the defendant.
The United States Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement and National Forensic Laboratory, and the Alaska State Troopers, conducted the investigation leading to the charges in this case, with the assistance of officers from the National Park Service, the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Division of Refuge Law Enforcement, and the Bureau of Land Management.