Fishermen and Seafood Wholesaler Convicted of Conspiring to Obstruct Justice, Falsify Food Safety and Oyster Harvest Records, and Traffic in Illegal Oysters
WASHINGTON – After a seven week trial in federal court in Camden, N.J., multiple defendants were convicted on various felony counts of creating false records, trafficking in illegally possessed oysters, obstructing the Food and Drug Administration’s regulation of public health and safety, and conspiring to commit those crimes, announced Ignacia S. Moreno, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, and Paul J. Fishman, U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey.
Thomas Reeves, Todd Reeves, and Shellrock LLC, all of Port Norris, N.J., were convicted on multiple felony counts of violating the Lacey Act by creating false records for illegally possessed oysters, trafficking in illegally possessed oysters and falsifying records used by the FDA for tracking the movement of oysters in interstate commerce. These same defendants, as well as Renee Reeves, an employee of Shellrock and the wife of Todd Reeves, were also found guilty of conspiring to commit those crimes and obstruct justice.
Kenneth Bailey, of Heislerville, N.J., was convicted on multiple felony counts of violating the Lacey Act by creating false records and trafficking in illegally possessed oysters, as well as falsifying records used by the FDA for tracking the movement of oysters in interstate commerce.
Mark Bryan, of New Market, Md, and the business he co-owns, Harbor House Seafood Inc., of Seaford, Del., were convicted on multiple felony counts of creating false records relating to their purchase of oysters, trafficking in illegally possessed oysters, as well as conspiring to obstruct justice and falsify records used by the FDA for tracking the movement of oysters in interstate commerce.
“The conspiracy to traffic in unreported and illegally possessed oysters from the Delaware Bay violated laws that protect public health and ensure the sustainability of resources that are vital to the region’s economy. In the course of the conspiracy, defendants falsified FDA records that are used to track oysters in the event of an outbreak of oyster-borne disease,” said Ignacia S. Moreno, Assistant Attorney General for the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the Department of Justice. “After an extensive trial, today’s conviction by a federal jury sends the message that we will prosecute those who exploit protected resources, deceive law enforcement and deprive honest fisherman of the full measure of their labor.”
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 the public health and minimize the impact of any oyster-borne outbreak of disease.
Starting in at least 2004 and continuing through 2007, Thomas and Todd Reeves, oyster fishermen who owned Shellrock (dba Reeves Brothers), would take a greater amount of oysters from the Delaware Bay than was allowed by New Jersey. The Reeveses would then falsify the records that New Jersey used to track the number of oysters harvested from Delaware Bay and sell those unreported oysters to Mark Bryan at Harbor House in Delaware. Thomas Reeves, Todd Reeves and Renee Reeves, along with Mark Bryan at Harbor House, would also coordinate to cover up their overharvest by falsifying records required by the FDA, records which were used to protect the public health from outbreaks of oyster-borne disease. In addition, the defendants conspired to obstruct the NOAA investigation into their illegal conduct by providing investigators with false records and making false statements that attempted to hide their conduct.
Bryan and Harbor House also purchased unreported oysters from Kenneth W. Bailey Sr., another Port Norris oyster fisherman. Like the Reeveses, Bailey would create false records required by the state and the FDA to hide his overharvest.
The fair market retail value of the unreported oysters during this time was in excess of $750,000, and the defendants over-harvested their quota in some years by nearly 60 percent.
The maximum penalty for conspiring to commit offenses and for violations of the Lacey Act is up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The maximum penalty for obstruction of justice counts is up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The maximum penalty for the corporations is up to five years of probation and a fine in an amount that is the greater of $500,000 or twice the gross gain, for each count.
The case was investigated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Office of Law Enforcement, and The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, Division of Fish and Wildlife. The case was prosecuted by Wayne D. Hettenbach and Patrick M. Duggan of the Environmental Crimes Section of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, with assistance from Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew T. Smith of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Jersey.