Delaware Seafood Wholesaler and Company Fined and Owner Sentenced to 26 Months in Prison for Illegally Trafficking in Oysters
Mark Bryan, 59, of New Market, Maryland, and his Delaware-based seafood wholesale business, Harbor House Seafood, were sentenced on Friday in federal court in Camden, New Jersey, for trafficking in illegally possessed oysters, creating false health and safety records, and conspiracy charges.
Bryan was sentenced to serve 26 months in prison followed by three years of supervised release. Bryan was also ordered to pay a $62,500 fine and to pay New Jersey $140,000 for the restoration of oyster beds in Delaware Bay. Harbor House was ordered to pay a $250,000 fine and was sentenced to five years of probation. Friday’s sentences, in addition to the previous sentencing of Bryan’s co-conspirators and suppliers, brings the total fines and forfeitures in this matter to over $625,000, along with $194,000 of restoration costs..
Bryan and Harbor House were convicted in 2012 of multiple felony crimes related to dealings in illegal oysters from 2004 to 2007. The evidence showed that for more than four years, Bryan conspired with New Jersey oystermen Thomas Reeves and Todd Reeves to cover up the Reeves’ overharvest of oysters from the Delaware Bay. Bryan, through his company, Harbor House Seafood, purchased the illegal oysters from the Reeves, then assisted in covering up the Reeves’ overharvest by maintaining double-books, providing federal agents with false records, and by falsifying his FDA-mandated health and safety logs. The jury saw numerous instances of late-night faxes between Bryan and the Reeves which were used to coordinate their conspiracy and hide their wrong-doing from investigators. Bryan was also shown to have purchased illegal oysters from oyster harvester Kenneth Bailey of New Jersey. During the course of his crimes, Bryan moved, purchased and sold over $1.2 million worth of illegal oysters.
The Reeves and Bailey were previously sentenced on Feb. 11, 2015, to 26 months, 16 months, and 12 months in prison, respectively, for their roles.
“The defendants’ actions provided a market for dishonest oystermen who were willing to place natural resources at risk in the name of profit,” said Assistant Attorney General John C. Cruden of the Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “Today’s sentences send the message that those who knowingly deal in illegal natural resources will be held accountable.”
“Today's sentence underscores the value that state partnerships add to NOAA Office of Law Enforcement’s ability to complete its mission,” said Assistant Director Logan Gregory for NOAA Fisheries Office of Law Enforcement. “In this case, our partnership with New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife was crucial in protecting the oyster resource in New Jersey and leveling the playing field across multiple industry sectors throughout the mid-Atlantic Region.”
The Lacey Act prohibits creating or submitting false records for fish or wildlife moving in interstate commerce and also prohibits trafficking in fish or wildlife known to be illegally taken or possessed. The FDA and state health agencies require that oyster purchasers and sellers maintain accurate records of the amounts and locations of oyster harvest for all oysters they buy and sell in order to protect public health and minimize the impact of any oyster-borne outbreak of disease.
The case was investigated by the NOAA Office of Law Enforcement and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s Division of Fish and Wildlife. The case was prosecuted by Assistant Chief Wayne D. Hettenbach and Trial Attorney Patrick M. Duggan of the Environment and Natural Resources Division’s Environmental Crimes Section, with assistance from Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew T. Smith of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Jersey.