Brooklyn Fish Dealer Pleads Guilty to Wire Fraud
Alan Dresner, a federally-licensed fish dealer from Brooklyn, N.Y., pleaded guilty today in federal court in Central Islip, N.Y., to federal violations stemming from his role in systematically underreporting fluke (summer flounder) that was being harvested as part of the federal Research Set-Aside (RSA) Program, the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division announced.
Alan Dresner pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud. The scheme involved his personal falsification and internet submission of at least 120 fisheries dealer reports from July 2009 to December 2011, as part of a scheme to defraud the United States of 246,376 pounds of overharvested and underreported fluke valued at $510,000.
As part of the plea deal, Dresner agreed to be subject to between $516,000 and $577,000 in combined fines and restitution. The defendant also agreed to make a $15,000 community service payment to the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County in order to pay for the enhancement of fluke habitat through the C.C.E.’s Marine Meadows Program. The jointly proposed sentence includes relinquishment of Dresner’s federal dealer license and a ban on accessing the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) SAFIS computer system . The court will hear sentencing recommendations regarding non-agreed terms at a hearing set for Oct. 22, 2014.
“Today, Dresner has acknowledged his role in cheating a federal research program for financial gain at the expense of law abiding fishermen,” said Robert G. Dreher, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “He repeatedly misled the government as he schemed to take hundreds of thousands of dollars in illegally harvested fluke. This conviction shows our commitment to protecting this resource for today’s fisherman and future generations.”
“These dealers created the market for these elicit, unreported fish and their willingness to conspire with the harvesters of these fish to no report them completely undermines the system of trying to obtain the best available science to manage this fishery,” said Logan Gregory, Special Agent in Charge of the NOAA Office of Law Enforcement’s Northeast Division. “The Office of Law Enforcement will continue to investigate this issue to conclusion. It's not only important to fisheries management, but also important to the law abiding industry members who rely on the availability of this fish to harvest and sell.”
Alan Dresner is “Fish Dealer X” as that person is identified in the related case of U.S. v. Anthony Joseph. As a federal fish dealer, Dresner had a NOAA permit to purchase fish directly from commercial fishing vessels without having to go through an intermediary. In July 2009, Dresner learned that Anthony Joseph, captain of the F/V Stirs One, was consistently overharvesting fluke through Joseph’s abuse of the RSA Program. By July 2009, Dresner was making regular purchases of illegal fluke from Joseph at the Point Lookout, N.Y., waterfront.
In order to cover his illegal fishing, Joseph would mail falsified fishing logs, known as FVTRs, to NOAA, but falsified FVTRs were just one side of the coin. This is because fish dealers are required to report their purchases to NOAA on an electronic form known as a dealer report. The dealer reports include information such as date of landing, port of landing, catch vessel, corresponding FVTR numbers, commercial grade, species, price, and weight. NOAA utilizes the data in the dealer reports to set quotas and implement other management measures designed to ensure a sustainable fisheries. The dealer reports also serve as a check on the information that is submitted in FVTRs. In other words, in order to effectuate his scheme, Anthony Joseph needed to ensure that corresponding false dealer reports were being submitted that contained the same false information as was contained on the falsified FVTRs. A mismatch would have indicated a serious error or fraud, and would have been a red flag for fisheries managers. Accordingly, during July 2009 to December 2011, the defendant schemed with Anthony Joseph to file at least 120 false dealer reports with NOAA, representing a loss of 246,376 pounds of fluke valued at $510,000. Another part of the scheme involved Dresner paying for legitimate, reported fish with a check, but utilizing cash handoffs to Joseph to purchase the illegal fluke.
The case was investigated by agents of NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service, with assistance from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Police. The case is being prosecuted by Christopher L. Hale of the Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Section, Environment and Natural Resources Division.