SEAFOOD DEALERS AND FISHERMEN SENTENCED
Michael J. Moore, United States Attorney for the Middle District of Georgia, announces that sentences have been imposed upon the following defendants in a federal environmental crimes prosecution: Junior Wayne Harper, age 60, of Thomasville, GA, Byron James Puckett, age 42, of Cairo, GA, Charles Stacy Logue, age 40, of East Point, FL, and Ronald Irvin Burdette, age 47, of Moultrie, GA. The sentences were imposed by the Honorable Hugh Lawson, District Judge for the Middle District of Georgia, on May 31, in Valdosta, Georgia, following a two day sentencing hearing earlier this month. All defendants were sentenced to terms of three years probation and received fines as follows: Harper- $50,000; Puckett- $25,000; Logue - $5000; and Burdette - $5000.
Harper, the owner and Chief Executive Officer of Harper's Seafood, Inc., a wholesale seafood business located in Thomasville, GA, and Puckett, the company's Vice President, pled guilty on December 20, 2011, to the felony offense of conspiracy to purchase in interstate commerce fish which they knew had been taken and sold in violation of Florida laws and regulations, in violation of Title 16, United States Code, Sections 3372(a)(2)(A) and 3373(d)(1)(B) (the Lacey Act). Harper and Puckett also pled guilty to making and submitting to the State of Florida a false Florida Marine Fisheries Trip Ticket by identifying an illegally purchased species of fish as a different species, also a felony violation of the Lacey Act. In addition, Harper, Logue and Burdette pled guilty to one felony count of selling and purchasing in interstate commerce fish which they knew had been taken and sold in violation of Florida laws and regulations.
During the timeframe of the conspiracy, Harper's Seafood illegally purchased fish having a market value in excess of $200,000 from 48 fishermen who did not have commercial licenses, including Logue and Burdette. Of that amount, approximately $40,000 was paid for by Harper from his personal checking account. The company's business records also revealed other transactions in which Harper's Seafood purchased fish illegally, with the primary violation being that the fish were sold during a closed season.
In imposing the sentences, Judge Lawson noted that it is important to preserve and protect our nation's resources, and that seafood safety is also an important consideration.
The case was investigated by agents with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC), and was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney K. Alan Dasher.