GULFPORT, MS - Lonnie M. Ray, the president of Cowart Seafood, Inc., of Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, pled guilty today to charges that include conspiracy to violate the Lacey Act, announced Acting U.S. Attorney Harold Brittain, Assistant Director Tracy A. Dunn with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Special Agent in Charge Louis Santiago with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; Keith Davis with the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources, Office of Marine Patrol; and Resident Agent in Charge Jason Denham with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The Lacey Act makes it unlawful to sell in interstate commerce any fish taken in violation of state law.
Lonnie Ray pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to violate the Lacey Act and one count of illegal possession of a short-barreled shotgun. In the indictment to which Ray pled guilty, he was charged with conspiring to violate the Lacey Act by selling fish to Louisiana seafood buyers that was taken in violation of Mississippi law. According to Mississippi law, seafood dealers are required to submit information about each seafood purchase from a commercial fisherman on a form known as a trip ticket that is provided by the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources (“DMR”). Ray admitted violating this requirement by failing to report seafood purchases to DMR and by buying fish from recreational fisherman in violation of state law. The Lacey Act charges against Shelley H. Ray, who was also named in the indictment, were dismissed. Ray also admitted owning a 12-gauge double-barrel shotgun, having a barrel of less than l8 inches in length, which was not registered to him in the National Firearms Registration and Transfer Record.
Ray will be sentenced by U.S. District Judge Sul Ozerden on Tuesday, July 25th, 2017. He faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine for the Lacey Act conspiracy, and a maximum penalty of ten years in prison and a $250,000 fine for the firearm charge.
Acting United States Attorney Harold Brittain praised the efforts of the federal and state investigative agencies for their diligent work in the investigation of this matter.