Tilghman Island Fisherman Sentenced to Prison for Illegal Fish Harvesting in the Chesapeake Bay
Ship Captain Poached Hundreds of Thousands of Pounds of Striped Bass
Baltimore, Maryland – U.S. District Judge Richard D. Bennett sentenced William J. Lednum, age 41, of Tilghman Island, Maryland, today to a year and a day in prison, followed by six months of home detention as part of three years of supervised release, for conspiring to violate the Lacey Act and to defraud the United States through the illegal harvesting and sale of 185,925 pounds of striped bass. Judge Bennett also ordered Lednum to pay $498,293.40 in restitution to the State of Maryland for the damage caused to the Striped Bass fishery. In addition, Judge Bennett ordered Lednum to pay a fine of $40,000.
The sentence was announced by United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein; Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division Sam Hirsch; Secretary Joe Gill of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR); and Honora Gordon, Regional Special Agent in Charge for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
“We are very pleased with today's court decision,” said DNR Secretary Joe Gill. “This individual was stealing from Maryland citizens and law-abiding waterman. We are proud of the great work done by Maryland Natural Resources Police officers.”
According to his plea agreement, Lednum and his co-defendant, Michael D. Hayden, were “captains” on fishing vessels owned by them, William J. Lednum Fisheries, d/b/a, Michael D. Hayden, Jr., and Michael D. Hayden, Jr., Inc. The defendants also employed numerous “helpers” as part of this scheme, including, co-defendants Kent Sadler and Lawrence Daniel Murphy.
From at least 2007 to 2011, Lednum and Hayden engaged in a scheme to illegally poach 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. In an effort to conceal their crimes, Lednum and Hayden admitted that they falsified paperwork related to their harvests and submitted those falsified documents to the State of Maryland. The State of Maryland in turn submits such paperwork to numerous Federal and interstate agencies responsible for setting harvest levels all along the eastern seaboard. Lednum and Hayden shipped and sold the striped bass to wholesalers in New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland, receiving a total of $498,293.47 for the poached fish.
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 and Lednum were sentenced today.
Co-defendants Michael D. Hayden, age 43, of Tilghman Island, Lawrence “Daniel” Murphy, age 37, of St. Michaels, Maryland, and Kent Conley Sadler, age 31, of Tilghman Island, previously pleaded guilty to their participation in the conspiracy. Murphy is scheduled to be sentenced on December 19, 2014, Sadler is scheduled to be sentenced on January 7, 2015 and Hayden is scheduled to be sentenced on February 27, 2015.
United States Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein praised the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for their work in the investigation. Mr. Rosenstein thanked Todd W. Gleason and Shennie Patel of the Department of Justice’s Environmental Crimes Section, and Assistant U.S. Attorney P. Michael Cunningham, who prosecuted the case.