News and Press Releases

KEYS COMMERCIAL FISH HOUSE PLEADS GUILTY AND SENTENCED IN SEAFOOD HARVESTING CONSPIRACY

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 11, 2011

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), announced that Rusty Anchor Seafood, of Key West, Inc. (Rusty Anchor), a Florida corporation with its principal place of business at Stock Island, Florida, pled guilty and was sentenced today in federal District Court in Key West for having conspired 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.

U.S. District Judge K. Michael Moore accepted Rusty Anchor’s plea, entered through its President, Ramon Rodriguez, and imposed sentence at the same hearing. Judge Moore imposed a criminal fine of $500,000, half payable immediately and the other half payable over a five year term of Court-supervised probation. Rusty Anchor must also implement a comprehensive Environmental Compliance Plan set out in the written plea agreement, which includes retaining the services of an independent auditor, acceptable to the United States, who will monitor training and operations over the course of the probation.

According to court records and statements made during the hearing, 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. 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.

At today’s hearing, the government stated that Rusty Anchor knowingly purchased and sold in interstate commerce lobster and finfish that were taken, possessed, transported, and sold in violation of Florida laws in order to enhance its profits. The illegal purchases from unlicensed individuals, and in excess of the allowable bag limits, were concealed from authorities in many ways, including, for example, by mislabeling the true species being acquired and attributing the catch to properly licensed fishermen.

A total of seven different purchase transactions were proffered by the government to support the charges. Among those the government described were a set of 42 purchases of spiny lobster from a single harvester by agents and employees of Rusty Anchor, reported to the State of Florida at a value of over $100,000, while the same employees concealed and did not report an additional $23,000 of lobster purchases over the daily allowable bag limit. In another instance, Rusty Anchor’s 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, 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.

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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.

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