Tilghman Island Fisherman Sentenced to Prison for Illegal Fish Harvesting in the Chesapeake Bay
U.S. District Judge Richard D. Bennett sentenced Michael D. Hayden, 43, of Tilghman Island, Maryland, today to 18 months in prison to be followed by six months of home detention and three years of supervised release for conspiring to violate the Lacey Act and defraud the United States through the illegal harvesting and sale of 185,925 pounds of striped bass. Judge Bennett also ordered that Hayden pay $498,000 in restitution and fined $40,000 to the state of Maryland for the damage caused to the striped bass.
The sentence was announced by Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division John C. Cruden, U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein, Secretary-designee Mark Belton of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and Regional Special Agent in Charge Honora Gordon for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
“Mr. Hayden is being held justly accountable for his role at the head of a conspiracy to plunder protected striped bass from the Chesapeake Bay,” said Assistant Attorney General Cruden. “The Justice Department, working closely with our state partners, will continue to protect these shared resources for the law abiding watermen of the Bay with vigorous prosecution of those who do not follow the law.”
“I commend the men and women of the Natural Resources Police who, with our federal partners, are committed to upholding the laws that protect Maryland's fish and wildlife,” said Secretary-designee Belton. “And I thank the citizens who came forward with tips to aid this extensive investigation.”
According to his plea agreement and court documents, Hayden was a captain on fishing vessels owned by him and his company, d/b/a, Michael D. Hayden, Jr., and Michael D. Hayden, Jr., Inc. Hayden and co-defendant William J. Lednum, 41, of Tilghman Island, also employed numerous “helpers” as part of this operation, including co-defendants Kent Conley Sadler, 31, of Tilghman Island, and Lawrence “Daniel” Murphy, 37, of St. Michaels, Maryland.
From at least 2007 to 2011, Hayden and his co-conspirators illegally harvested at least 185,925 pounds of striped bass from the Chesapeake Bay in violation of Maryland regulations relating to harvest method, amounts, tagging and reporting. To conceal their crimes, Hayden and his co-conspirators falsified paperwork submitted to the state of Maryland relating to their harvests. The state in turn submits such paperwork to federal and interstate agencies responsible for setting harvest levels all along the eastern seaboard. Hayden and his co-conspirators shipped and sold the illegally harvested striped bass to wholesalers in Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania and Delaware who paid them a total of $498,293.
The investigation in this case started in February 2011 when the Maryland Department of Natural Resources found tens of thousands of pounds of striped bass snagged in illegal, anchored nets before the season officially reopened. The conspirators were seen on the water in the vicinity of the illegal nets. The subsequent investigation unveiled a wider criminal enterprise for which Hayden was sentenced today.
Co-defendants Lednum, Murphy, and Sadler previously pleaded guilty to their participation in the conspiracy. Lednum was sentenced to a year and a day in prison and ordered to pay a $40,000 fine and restitution of $489,293, Murphy was sentenced to three years’ probation and ordered to pay a $10,000 fine and $30,000 in restitution and Sadler was sentenced to 30 days in prison to be served on the weekends from Jan. 30, 2015 to May 17, 2015. Sadler was also ordered to pay a $5,000 fine and $20,000 in restitution.
Trial attorneys Todd W. Gleason and Shennie Patel of the Department of Justice’s Environmental Crimes Section, and Assistant U.S. Attorney P. Michael Cunningham prosecuted the case.