FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASEENRD
FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 3, 2000(202) 514-2007
WWW.USDOJ.GOVTDD (202) 514-1888
FOUR INVOLVED IN LOBSTER HARVESTING & DISTRIBUTION
FOUND GUILTY IN ILLEGAL IMPORT SCHEME
WASHINGTON, D.C. - A federal jury in Mobile, Alabama, has found four individuals guilty of multiple felony counts related to the illegal harvest and importation of Caribbean spiny lobster tails, the Justice Department announced today.
David Henson McNab, a citizen of Honduras, was found guilty of one conspiracy count, 11 smuggling counts and 16 money laundering counts. Robert D. Blandford, of Coral Springs, Fla., was found guilty of one conspiracy count, 11 smuggling counts, 10 felony Lacey Act counts, two misdemeanor Lacey Act counts and 13 money laundering counts. Abner J. Schoenwetter, of the Miami area, was found guilty of one conspiracy count and six smuggling counts. Diane Huang, of Englewood Cliffs, N.J., was found guilty of one conspiracy count, one felony false labeling count, and 15 Lacey Act misdemeanor counts. The Lacy Act prohibits import, export, transportation, sale, receipt, acquisition or purchase of fish, wildlife, or plants that are taken, possessed, transported or sold in violation of any federal, state, tribal or foreign law.
The convictions carry maximum statutory penalties of five or 10 years in prison and fines of up to $250,000, or twice the value of the pecuniary gain by the defendant. The lobster tails at issue had a wholesale value of more than $4 million. Sentencing is scheduled for March 2, 2001 for Huang and Blandford, and March 16, 2001 for McNab and Schoenwetter.
According to the indictment, from 1995 through May 2000, the defendants conspired to import into the United States Caribbean spiny lobster tails harvested in Honduras, in violation of Honduran regulations designed to preserve a sustainable lobster fishery. Once in the United States, the conspirators sold the illegal lobster tails to U.S. seafood companies.
McNab owns one of the largest fleets of lobster-fishing vessels in Honduras, and the indictment charged that workers on his vessels harvested lobster that were under the legal size limit set by Honduras. They also harvested egg-bearing lobsters in violation of Honduran regulations and harvested lobster and shrimp during the closed seasons set by Honduras. To conceal the catch of egg-bearing lobsters, the parts of the lobster tails to which the eggs were attached were clipped off.
Documents introduced at trial indicated that McNab properly reported and processed approximately half of his harvest, and, unbeknownst to the Honduran government, exported the other half to Blandford's company, Seamerica. Blandford, one of the largest U.S. importers of Honduras lobster tails, and his associate Schoenwetter agreed to buy the illegal lobster tails from McNab's company.
The lobster tails were primarily imported into the United States through Bayou la Batre in Alabama, a state that has no significant lobster fishery and therefore no regulations governing the harvest or possession of lobster. On occasion, undersized lobsters were transported through from Alabama into Florida, which has laws prohibiting the harvest and possession of undersized and eggbearing lobster.
Once the lobster was in the United States, Blandford or Schoenwetter sold the lobster tails to American seafood companies, particularly the company that employed Huang. Blandford, Schoenwetter and Huang often received commissions or agent fees for their roles in the illegal importations.
"The prosecution of this case was a truly cooperative effort between the United States, Honduras, and the State of Florida. These international enforcement efforts are increasingly effective and necessary to protect the global environment," Assistant Attorney General Lois Schiffer said. "These convictions should send a strong message that illegally harvesting seafood for immediate personal gain will not be tolerated, wherever it occurs."
The Caribbean, or Florida, spiny lobster (Panulirus argus) is found in salt waters from Florida to Brazil, including the waters off Honduras, comprising one of the world's largest commercial lobster fisheries. Biologists believe that the offspring of lobster populations off the Western Caribbean coast, including Honduras, are key sources for replenishing the lobster stocks in the Southeast United States.
The spiny lobster is one of Honduras' most important natural resources and is the most valuable marine species along the entire intertropical area of the western Atlantic. Honduras regulates the commercial fishing of spiny lobster to prevent the over-exploitation and collapse of this valuable resource The United States, as the largest importer and consumer of Honduran spiny lobster, also has a significant interest in a commercially sustainable harvest.
Spiny lobsters must mature to a certain size and/or age, typically at least 5.5 inches in tail length, before they are able to reproduce. To promote reproduction, both the State of Florida and Honduras, as well as many other Caribbean nations, have established a size limit for spiny lobster of 5.5 inches in tail length. For the same reason, both the State of Florida and Honduras prohibit the harvest of female lobsters that are in the eggbearing stage of reproduction.
The investigation of this case was lead by Special Agents of the National Marine Fisheries Service, with close cooperation and assistance of Special Agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Internal Revenue Service. Significant assistance and support also was provided by the government of Honduras, particularly the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock, and law enforcement officers with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (commonly known as the Florida Marine Patrol). The case was prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney's Office, Southern District of Alabama, with the assistance of the Wildlife and Marine Resources Section of the U.S. Department of Justice.