Shrimp boat seized after fraud conviction has been sold
Proceeds from sale will defray part of convicted criminal's restitution
SAVANNAH, GA: A shrimp boat seized in a federal fraud investigation has a new home with a North Carolina seafood company.
Assistant United States Attorneys with the Southern District of Georgia’s Asset Recovery Unit recently completed the sale of the 80-foot trawler to Lee Bland Williams of Scranton, N.C.
Williams and his wife, Madge, own Hobo Seafood, a commercial fishing operation in Swanquarter, N.C. He purchased the boat for $15,000, and said despite significant repairs the craft needs to make it seaworthy, he plans to have it ready for this summer’s shrimping season.
The boat, dubbed the Emily & Anna-Marie by its previous owner, had been docked in Port Royal, S.C., since its seizure. It had been offered for sale by the Southern District of Georgia U.S. Attorney’s Office under court approval for disposal of seized property, and the boat’s condition increased the challenge of finding a buyer.
“This is just one example of the kind of innovative thinking and litigating our office’s Asset Recovery Unit conducts as they move forward rapidly to make victims whole,” said Bobby L. Christine, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Georgia.
Williams, who operates a small fleet of fishing vessels, said his crew also repairs and maintains the boats – and he expects to have the 50-year-old trawler back in working order in time for the July start of shrimping season.
The boat was seized in March 2018 after the conviction in federal court of its previous owner, Michael Brian Anderson of Tybee Island, Ga., on multiple counts of false statements, mail fraud and money laundering. Anderson is serving a 77-month sentence in federal prison and was ordered to pay $818,234 in restitution. Proceeds from the sale of the boat will go toward paying that debt.
Anderson, a shrimper and fisherman, was convicted of submitting multiple fraudulent claims seeking millions of dollars in subsidies under the Continued Dumping and Subsidy Offset Act of 2000, a federal program that allowed American shrimp producers to apply funding to reimburse income they lost due to foreign competition. The investigation in the case showed that the program paid Anderson more than $800,000 to which he was not entitled.
The Asset Recovery Unit (ARU) of the U. S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Georgia, led by Assistant U.S. Attorney Xavier A. Cunningham, is conducting post-judgment enforcement in the case. In building a strategy for enforcing Anderson’s Restitution Order, Financial Litigation Unit Assistant U.S. Attorney Mary Sue Robichuax filed a first-of-its-kind motion on behalf of the government to seek an order from U.S. District Court to enable sale of Anderson’s boat.
“We chose this unique path because the shrimp boat was rapidly depreciating,” Robichaux said. “The extra time and cost it would have taken to involve another agency or service to sell the boat would have resulted in a net loss from the vessel’s sale. It was also doubtful that another agency or broker would have touched the sale for this very reason, and it left us in a predicament over the optimal way to maximize profits to apply them to Anderson’s restitution balance. Requesting and obtaining authority to sell the boat ourselves was the best course of action given all of these headwinds.”
Cunningham said it’s just another day at the office.
“It took teamwork along with novel and creative thinking in order to complete this enforcement action,” he said. “Such tenacity is the hallmark of the USAO SDGA, where maximizing recovery for crime victims and completing the lifecycle of justice is paramount.”