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Thursday, October 29, 2015

Long Island Fisherman Sentenced to Prison Time and Pay More Than $600,000 for Fisheries Fraud

Anthony Joseph, a commercial fisherman from Levittown, New York, was sentenced today in federal court in Central Islip, New York, to seven months in prison for 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.

Joseph was also sentenced to three years of supervised release following his incarceration and to pay $603,000 in restitution.

Joseph, the former operator of the dragger F/V Stirs One, pleaded guilty on April 11, 2014, to one count of mail fraud, two counts of wire fraud and one count of falsification of federal records for knowingly submitting 158 falsified fishing logs, known as fishing vessel trip reports (FVTRs) and aiding and abetting the submission of 167 falsified dealer reports from June 2009 through December 2011, as part of a scheme to defraud the United States of overharvested and underreported fluke.

Under the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) regulations, all of the Stirs One’s catch had to be reported to NOAA on FVTRs.  During the years 2009, 2010 and 2011, the Stirs One principally targeted fluke.  However, under the captaincy and with the knowledge of Joseph, the vessel exceeded its relevant federal and New York State quotas for fluke for at least 158 trips.  These illegal overages totaled 302,000 pounds of fluke worth approximately $626,000.

In order to cover up the illegal fluke harvesting, Joseph falsified the FVTRs that he personally mailed to NOAA.  He also utilized the exempted fisheries permit quota that was acquired through the federal RSA Program as a mask for his fluke overages.  According to court documents, the defendant characterized the RSA Program as “a license to steal” and remarked that during the period of 2009 to 2011, he referred to the Research Set-Aside Program with the nickname, “Research Steal-Aside.”  

NOAA regulations also required the first purchasers of seafood, i.e., directly from the fishing vessel, 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, 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 June 2009 to December 2011, the defendant schemed with two other fish dealers to submit false dealer reports in furtherance of the fraud.  In doing so, the defendant aided and abetted previously convicted Alan Dresner and Jones Inlet Seafood Company in their internet submission of a total of at least 167 false dealer reports from computers in New York to NOAA’s Regional Fisheries Office in Gloucester, Massachusetts.

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 Environment and Natural Resources Division’s Environmental Crimes Section.

Updated October 29, 2015