New Jersey Oyster Harvesters and Dealers Sentenced for Illegally Trafficking in Oysters, Falsifying Food Safety and Oyster Harvest Records, and Obstructing Justice
Three oyster harvesters and dealers, an employee and a related business were sentenced yesterday in federal court in Camden, New Jersey. Todd Reeves, Thomas Reeves, Renee Reeves, of Port Norris, New Jersey, and their oyster dealer company, Shellrock LLC, were sentenced for their roles in creating false oyster records, trafficking in illegally possessed oysters, obstructing the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) regulation of public health and safety, and conspiring to commit those crimes. Kenneth Bailey, of Heislerville, New Jersey, was sentenced for creating false oyster records and trafficking in illegal oysters.
Todd Reeves was sentenced to serve 26 months in prison and three years of supervised release, to pay a $7,000 fine, and was ordered to pay New Jersey $140,000 for the restoration of oyster beds in Delaware Bay. Thomas Reeves was sentenced to serve 16 months in prison and three years of supervised release and pay a $7,000 fine, while Renee Reeves was sentenced to serve five years of probation and pay a $2,500 fine. Thomas, Renee and Shellrock were found liable for the restitution amount along with Todd. Todd and Thomas Reeves were additionally ordered to forfeit $144,000 to substitute assets for the vessels that they used to overharvest the oysters. The Reeves’ business, Shellrock, also known as “Reeves Brothers,” was ordered to pay a fine of $70,000 and complete a term of five years of probation.
Kenneth Bailey was sentenced to serve six months incarceration, followed by six months of home confinement and three years of supervised release, as well as to pay a $10,000 fine. Bailey was also ordered to forfeit $75,000 in substitute assets for the vessels that he used to overharvest the oysters.
“The conspiracy to traffic in overharvested, unreported and illegally possessed oysters from the Delaware Bay violated laws that protect public health and ensure the sustainability of resources,” said Assistant Attorney General John C. Cruden of the Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “The defendants’ actions were harmful to honest fisherman of the Delaware Bay and the long-term viability of a resource that is vital to the local economy and plays an important role in the history of Southern New Jersey. Today’s sentences let the public know that we will not allow protected resources to be exploited, and that those who obstruct law enforcement and deprive honest fisherman of the full measure of their labor will be held accountable.”
In 2012, the defendants were convicted of numerous felony crimes related to their overharvest and sale of over $750,000 worth of oysters from the Delaware Bay. The evidence at trial showed that, for over four years, brothers Todd and Thomas Reeves would overharvest oysters from the Delaware Bay and create false dealer reports and harvester records to hide that overharvest from conservation officers. The Reeves also created false state and FDA health records to ensure that regulators would not detect their overharvest. The Reeves then sold their illegal oysters through their company, Shellrock LLC, to Mark Bryan of Harbor House Seafood, a wholesale and retail seafood operator in Delaware. Bryan and Harbor House are scheduled to be sentenced in Camden on Feb. 27, 2015, for their role in conspiring to create false records to conceal the scheme from authorities.
Kenneth Bailey engaged in similar conduct in 2006 and 2007, overharvesting oysters from the public oyster beds in Delaware Bay. Bailey then created false dealer reports, harvest reports and bills of lading to hide that overharvest from authorities.
“This investigation is a great example of state and federal cooperative enforcement,” said Assistant Director Logan Gregory of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries’ Office of Law Enforcement. “The Office of Law Enforcement will continue to support our enforcement partners by providing complex investigation expertise to address wildlife trafficking, seafood fraud and illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing. We enjoy a great working relationship with our partners in the state of New Jersey, which is paramount in helping ensure a level playing field and a resilient coastal economy along the Delaware Bay shore.”
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.
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.