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Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Fulton Fish Market Dealer and President Plead Guilty in Long Island to Fraud, Falsifying Federal Records, and Lacey Act Violations

Lou’s Fish Market Inc , a federally-licensed fish dealer located in the Bronx, New York, and its company president, Mark Parente, of Englishtown, New Jersey, pleaded guilty today in federal court in Central Islip, New York, to federal felonies stemming from their role in systematically covering up purchases of illegal fluke (summer flounder), scup and black sea bass that were being harvested in violation of the federal Research Set-Aside (RSA) Program, the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division announced.

Parente pleaded guilty to two counts of wire fraud, one count of aiding and abetting mail fraud and one count of falsification of federal records for fraud schemes that ran from May through December 2011.  Parente’s schemes involved two Long Island trawlers, one based in southern Nassau County and another in northern Suffolk County.  The trawlers utilized the RSA Program as a mask for unlawful quota overages.  In order to conceal the fishermen’s illicit catch, Parente directed unwitting company personnel to prepare and file at least 78 false dealer reports to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which omitted or misidentified approximately 203,000 pounds of fluke, 50,000 pounds of scup and 12,000 pounds of black sea bass.  The wholesale value of the fish was stipulated as $481,000.  Lou’s Fish Market Inc. pleaded guilty to the falsification of federal records charge as well as one count of Lacey Act False Labeling for the knowing use of false documents in connection with approximately 70,000 pounds of fluke that was shipped to interstate customers.

As part of the plea deal, the two defendants agreed to pay $932,000 in combined fines and restitution.  The defendants also agreed to make a $110,000 community service payment for the enhancement of seagrass and fluke habitat around Long Island.  The jointly proposed sentence includes a ban on Parente from holding a federal dealer license, accessing NOAA’s SAFIS computer system, participating in the RSA program, or being in a position to direct others to complete dealer reports.  Lou’s Fish Market also agreed to increased recordkeeping and auditing requirements.  The court will hear sentencing recommendations regarding non-agreed terms at a hearing set for Dec. 3, 2015.

“The Department will continue to vigorously prosecute those who jeopardize our nation’s fisheries by providing a market for illegally caught fish,” said Assistant Attorney General John C. Cruden.  “In this case, the crime is all the more aggravated because the participants took advantage of a federal program designed to study fish populations and enable law-abiding fishermen to increase their catch.”

“Protecting our nation's honest fishermen is, and will always be, a top priority for NOAA.  Egregious acts that undermine the sustainable management of our fisheries resources and steal from those in the industry who follow the rules will not be tolerated,” said Eileen Sobeck, Assistant Administrator for NOAA Fisheries.

The case was investigated by agents of NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service.  The case is being prosecuted by Christopher L. Hale of the Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Section, Environment and Natural Resources Division.

Updated July 7, 2015