Florida Lobster Divers & Company Sentenced for Illegal Harvesting Activities
Wifredo A. Ferrer, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, Tracy Dunn, Assistant Director, NOAA Fisheries Office of Law Enforcement, Sean Morton, Superintendent of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (FKNMS), and David Pharo, Resident Agent in Charge U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS), Miami, announced that Charles Veach, 39, of Coppitt Key, Ryan Veach, 41, formerly of Bay Point, and Tyson Veach, 36, of Stock Island, were sentenced yesterday before Senior U.S. District Judge James Lawrence King.
Charles Veach, Ryan Veach, and Tyson Veach were each sentenced to serve a term of imprisonment of six months, followed by a one year period of supervised release. Additionally, the Court ordered the forfeiture the fishing vessel used in the offense, including its engines, tackle, and appurtenances as instrumentalities of the crimes. Each of the three defendants was also sentenced to pay a $25,000 fine.
Each defendant was sentenced based on their prior guilty pleas to the offense of knowingly transporting, selling, receiving, acquiring, and purchasing lobster violation of the laws and regulations of the State of Florida, in violation of Title 16, United States Code, Sections 3372(a)(2)(A), and 3373(d)(2) and Title 18, United States Code, Section 2. Additionally, the corporate entity operated by the defendants, Super Grouper, Inc., was sentenced based on its previous conviction for knowingly engaging and attempting to engage in conduct that involved the offer, sale and intent to purchase spiny lobster in interstate commerce in violation of the laws and regulations of the State of Florida, specifically, Florida Administrative Code, Sections 68B-24.006(10), all in violation of Title 16, United States Code, Sections 3372(a)(2)(A), 3372(a)(4), and 3373(d)(1)(B), and Title 18, United States Code, Section 2.
According to court documents and information, Charles Veach was the President and Director of Super Grouper, Inc., and the company was the registered owner of the fishing vessel, the “SUPER GROUPER.”
On August 10, 2009, Charles and Ryan Veach operated the vessel and harvested lobster in the FKNMS. During that voyage, aircraft operated by the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWCC) videotaped their diving activities. NOAA Special Agents documented the vessel return to Charles Veach’s home, where a significant amount of spiny lobsters were unloaded and subsequently sold to a wholesale dealer in Key West.
On August 15, 2014, the Super Grouper, operated by Charles and Tyson Veach, was located in the FKNMS by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) aircraft. FWS agents subsequently documented multiple locations where a diver deployed from the Super Grouper and CBP video captured spiny lobster harvesting activities on board the Super Grouper. NOAA Special Agents later witnessed the landing and sale of a part of the harvest at Stock Island to a wholesale dealer. An additional sale was made to a Key West dealer.
On August 19, 2014, NOAA Special Agents observed Charles and Tyson Veach aboard the Super Grouper harvesting lobsters in the FKNMS. During that trip, CBP documented multiple locations at which Tyson Veach engaged in diving activities. A later survey of the locations by the FWS Region 4 Dive Team verified the presence of illegal “casitas,” or artificial habitats, at the sites. Charles and Tyson Veach later landed the vessel and sold the spiny lobsters at a wholesaler dealer in Stock Island.
Creating or harvesting from “casitas,” or artificial habitat, is illegal under state and federal law. As part of their agreement to cooperate, the defendants surrendered a list of all their illegal harvesting sites to the Government, and were required to remove all the sites at their own expense from federal and State waters, prior to sentencing. The defendants were also required to surrender their various lobster and dive endorsements to the State of Florida.
Mr. Ferrer commended the joint investigative efforts of the Special Agents of the NOAA Office of Law Enforcement, and the FWS who led the long-term investigation into the illegal harvesting and sale of spiny lobster known as Operation Quick Peek. Mr. Ferrer also thanked Customs and Border Protection Office of Air & Marine, the FWCC, the crew of the Patrol Vessel Peter Gladding, and the FWS Region 4 Dive Team who also assisted in the investigative effort. This case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Thomas Watts-FitzGerald and Antonio Barnes.
A copy of this press release may be found on the website of the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida at www.usdoj.gov/usao/fls. Related court documents and information may be found on the website of the District Court for the Southern District of Florida at www.flsd.uscourts.gov or on http://pacer.flsd.uscourts.gov.