KEYS COMMERCIAL FISHHOUSE CHARGED IN MASSIVE SEAFOOD HARVESTING CONSPIRACY
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, and Eddie McKissick, Resident Agent in Charge, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS), announce that Rusty Anchor Seafood of Key West, Inc. (Rusty Anchor), a Florida corporation with its principal place of business in Stock Island, Key West, Florida, was charged in a criminal Information today with a conspiracy to receive, purchase, and transport quantities of lobster and finfish for resale and distribution in interstate commerce, without complying with Florida law regarding commercial harvest requirements, licensing provisions, and bag and trip limits essential to the lawful harvest, possession, and sale of saltwater products, in violation of the Lacey Act, all in violation of the federal conspiracy statute, Title 18, United States Code, Section 371.
The case has been assigned to U.S. District Court Judge K. Michael Moore, in the Key West Division. If convicted, Rusty Anchor faces a possible criminal fine of up to the greater of $500,000, or twice the pecuniary gain from the relevant criminal conduct, and a period of probation of up to five years. Arraignment is scheduled for Friday, April 1, 2011 in Key West federal court.
According to the allegations in the criminal Information, from as early as August 1, 2007 through approximately September 2009, Rusty Anchor conducted business as Rusty Anchor Fisheries, Rusty Anchor Restaurant, and Rusty Anchor Seafoods, and operated as a licensed wholesale purchaser, seller, and distributor of seafood products and a retail restaurant. During the relevant period, Florida Statutes and the Florida Administrative Code set strict requirements for commercial harvest limits on Florida spiny lobster and a range of finfish. Florida law also required certain licenses and endorsements for a seafood product harvester to lawfully operate in the State. As part of its effort to protect and replenish Florida’s reef fish, Florida also required harvesters to hold any federally required permits and licenses. Wholesale dealers, such as Rusty Anchor, were prohibited from purchasing lobster and finfish regulated by the State of Florida without first confirming that the seller possessed all required state and federal licenses.
The Information asserts that Rusty Anchor, for its commercial gain, knowingly purchased and sold in interstate commerce lobster and finfish that were taken, possessed, transported, and sold in violation of Florida laws. The illegal purchases from unlicensed individuals, and in excess of the allowable bag limits, were concealed from authorities in many ways, including, for example, mislabeling the true species being acquired and attributing the catch to properly licensed fishermen.
According to the Information, agents and employees of Rusty Anchor made 42 purchases, valued at more than $100,000, of spiny lobster from a single harvester, but concealed and did not report an additional $23,000 of lobster purchases over the daily allowable bag limit. In another instance, Rusty Anchor agents and employees allocated 27 separate purchases of finfish to a license purportedly held in the name of the company President, although no such license existed. In addition, the Information alleges that in January 2008, employees of Rusty Anchor purchased more than $500 of the restricted species black grouper from an unlicensed fisherman and concealed the illegal transaction by mislabeling the catch as Mahoua, an unregulated bait fish.
Mr. Ferrer commended the coordinated investigative efforts of the Special Agents of the NOAA Office for Enforcement and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The criminal case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Watts-FitzGerald, Deputy Chief of the Economic & Environmental Crimes Section of the United States Attorney’s Office.
An Information is merely an accusation and the defendants are assumed innocent until proven guilty.
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.