Scheme Defrauded U.s. Research Set-aside Program of Nearly $200,000 in Overharvested and Unreported Fluke
Washington, DC—(ENEWSPF)—November 22, 2013. The operator of the dragger F/V Norseman and an associated fish dealer were sentenced today in federal court in Central Islip, N.Y., for criminal violations stemming from their role in systematically underreporting fluke (summer flounder) that was being harvested as part of the federal Research Set-Aside Program, the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division announced.
On Aug. 15, 2013, Wertz pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud and two counts of falsification of federal records for knowingly submitting 137 falsified dealer reports from May 2009 through December 2011, and 70 falsified fishing logs, known as fishing vessel trip reports (FVTRs), from May 2011 through December 2011, as part of a scheme to defraud the United States of overharvested and unreported fluke. C&C Ocean Fishery Ltd. pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud and three counts of falsification of federal records for its participation in the scheme, which included aiding and abetting the submission of falsified dealer reports and FVTRs.
C&C Ocean was not only aware of the false Norseman FVTRs, but it aided and abetted the perpetration of the FVTR scheme through its preparation of federal dealer reports. As a federal dealer, C&C Ocean was required to prepare and submit federal dealer reports to NOAA. The dealer reports include information such as date of landing, port of landing, catch vessel, corresponding FVTR numbers, commercial grade, species, price, and weight. In order to cover up the overharvesting that occurred on the water, C&C Ocean’s dealer report had to match the catch data that was submitted on the corresponding FVTR. In other words, if the FVTR falsely underreported the Norseman’s catch of fluke, then the scheme would likely be detected unless the corresponding dealer report was similarly falsified. Both defendants prepared and submitted false dealer reports for each of the trips set forth in the table.
The case was investigated by special agents of NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service, Office of Law Enforcement, with assistance from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Police. The case is being prosecuted by Christopher L. Hale of the Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Section, Environment and Natural Resources Division.
The defendants electronically submitted the 137 false dealer reports from Wertz’s desktop computer in New York, through an out-of-state internet server, to NOAA’s Regional Fisheries Administrator in Gloucester, Mass. Under NOAA regulations, all of the Norseman’s catch had to be reported to NOAA on FVTRs. During the years 2009, 2010, and 2011, the Norseman principally targeted fluke. However, on multiple occasions the vessel exceeded its relevant federal and New York State quotas for fluke for 137 trips, totaling 86,080 pounds of fluke worth approximately $200,000.
In order to cover up the illegal fluke harvesting, the operators of the Norseman falsified the FVTRs that were submitted to NOAA. For each of the 137 trips, a false FVTR was submitted. During 2009 and 2010, another individual submitted the false FVTRs, but by May 2, 2011, Wertz was falsifying and submitting the FVTRs himself. The defendants were aware that the FVTRs were utilized by NOAA as part of the administration of its statutory-mandated fisheries management program. Charles Wertz, Jr., a commercial fisherman from East Meadow, N.Y., was sentenced to serve one year and a day in prison to be followed by three years of supervised release, 100 hours of community service, a $5,000 fine, $99,800 in restitution and a $300 special assessment. The fish dealer, C&C Ocean Fishery Ltd., was sentenced to pay a $275,000 fine, $99,800 in restitution, and a $1,600 special assessment. The court also sentenced the defendants to comply with multiple sentence conditions, including relinquishment of federal fishing permits, a ban on participation in the Research Seat-Aside Program, divestiture of any interest in the F/V Norseman, and winding down and dissolving the company, C&C Ocean Fishery Ltd., within 90 days.