PALM BEACH COUNTY RESIDENT PLEADS GUILTY IN SCHEME TO IMPORT ILLEGAL CATCH FROM THE BAHAMAS
Wifredo A, Ferrer, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, Hal Robbins, Special Agent in Charge, NOAA Fisheries Office of Law Enforcement, Southeast Division, Michael Shea, Deputy Special Agent in Charge, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations (ICE-HSI), Miami Field Office, and Major Jeff Hubert, Regional Commander, South A Region, Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), announced that Van Bodden-Martinez, 47, a Bahamian national residing in Palm Beach County, pled guilty earlier today to a charge of having imported and attempted to import into the United States fish and wildlife possessed and transported in violation of the laws of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas, all in violation of the federal Lacey Act, Title 16, United States Code, Sections 3371(a)(2)(A) and 3373(d)(1)(A).
Bodden-Martinez pled guilty before U.S. District Court Judge Kenneth A. Marra, who set sentencing in this matter for September 2, 2011, at 1:30 p.m., at the Federal Courthouse in West Palm Beach. Bodden-Martinez faces a possible term of imprisonment of up to five years, a fine of up to $250,000, and a term of supervised release of up to three years, as well as forfeiture of the illegal seafood products.
According to an agreed statement of facts and other documents filed in the case, on February 19, 2011, FWC officers in Palm Beach County conducted a resource inspection of Bodden’s Florida-numbered sport fishing vessel “TALK THAT” (FL0353EJ). On board the vessel, officers found 343.5 pounds of queen conch (Strombus gigus), with a retail value exceeding $6,000, 45 wrung spiny lobster tails (Panulirus argus), 42 of which were illegally undersized under both Bahamian and Florida law, and 42 yellowtail snapper (Ocyurus chrysurus). Further investigation established that the TALK THAT had just arrived from the Bahamas. Later, during the inspection at the pier, the defendant provided a United States Coast Guard Boarding Form showing he had been boarded by the Coast Guard at 4:40 a.m. that same day, 6 nautical miles north of Grand Bahama Island.
During the FWC inspection, neither Bodden nor the others accompanying him on his vessel could produce valid fishing licenses or permits for harvesting of the seafood product in Bahamian waters. Although asked about the quantity of marine life in their two coolers, Bodden and his companions were unable to provide receipts or other proof of having purchased the marine life, or acquired it in any other legal fashion.
The Commonwealth of the Bahamas strictly regulates all seafood products as a conservation oversight measure and to insure the safety and quality of their exports, in part through a licensing and permitting system in the Fisheries Resources (Jurisdiction & Conservation) Regulations, Part X, Sections 47(1)(a), (b) and 48(1)(f), which prohibits the owner or operator of a vessel from engaging in sportfishing unless a permit is granted by the Minister for Agriculture and Marine Resources after payment of the required fee, and further prohibits a sportfishing vessel from having on board in excess of six conch, ten crawfish (spiny lobsters), or 20 demersal (finfish). The defendant never applied for or possessed the licenses that would have been required for the product found aboard his vessel to be harvested and exported to the United States.
Mr. Ferrer commended the coordinated investigative efforts of the Special Agents and Officers of the NOAA Office of Law Enforcement, ICE, CBP, FWC, U.S. Coast Guard, and the Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Watts-FitzGerald.
A copy of this press release may be found on the website of the United States Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Florida at http://www.usdoj.gov/usao/fls. Related court documents and information may be found on the website of the District Court for the Southern District of Florida at http://www.flsd.uscourts.gov or on http://pacer.flsd.uscourts.gov.