Long Island Fisherman Pleads Guilty to Falsifying Documents and Lying to Federal Investigators
James Kaminsky, a fisherman from Mattituck, New York, pleaded guilty today in federal court in Central Islip, New York, to federal felonies stemming from his role in systematically covering up the landing and sale of illegal fluke (summer flounder), scup and black sea bass that were overharvested in violation of New York state quotas and the federal Research Set-Aside (RSA) Program, the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division announced.
Kaminsky pleaded guilty to one count of aiding and abetting false documents and one count of oral false statements in connection with a scheme that ran from May through August 2011. During this period, Kaminsky utilized the RSA Program as a mask for unlawful quota overages. He then sold his illegal catch to Mark Parente, a federal fish dealer and a defendant in a related case. Federal fish dealers are required to accurately report their purchases to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), regardless of whether the fish originated from a state or federal fishery. NOAA utilizes these reports to assess fish stocks and to set quotas in conjunction with regional fisheries councils. False information inputted into fisheries statistical models reduces their effectiveness and could result in unexpected, corrective quota reductions years after the illegal catch because actual fishing effort had been undercounted by the models. Such quota reductions can have negative effects on the legitimate fishing fleet.
In order to cover up the illegal harvest and transactions, Kaminsky and Parente agreed to falsify government documents. As such Kaminsky falsified approximately 30 fishing vessel trip reports and Parente falsified a corresponding number of dealer reports. To further obscure the illicit conduct, almost all of the payments were made in cash, with Parente and Kaminsky meeting at a pre-determined spot off the Long Island Expressway in Nassau or Suffolk Counties. The scheme omitted or misidentified approximately 6,900 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 $78,000. The second charge stems from material, false statements that Kaminsky made to NOAA criminal investigators during a November 2014 proffer session with a federal prosecutor.
As part of the plea deal, the defendant agreed to pay a total financial penalty of $150,000. He also agreed to five years of probation and six months of home detention. Agreed-upon probation terms include relinquishment of commercial fishing permits, ban from the RSA Program and divestiture and ban from any interest in a commercial fishing vessel. Kaminsky’s sentencing is scheduled for Nov. 2.
Kaminsky is “Fisherman Y,” as that term is used in the related Mark Parente case. Kaminsky is the tenth defendant to be prosecuted as part of NOAA’s ongoing Long Island RSA Fraud Investigation. 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.