June 06, 2012
A Georgia seafood dealer handling hundreds of thousands of dollars in illegal fish from Florida has been given probation and small fines. Law enforcement officers said the felony sentences were one more case of go-easy dispositions by court authorities involving large-scale wildlife prosecutions. The fishhouse bought illegal fish from more than 48 persons, according to the prosecution, which included guilty pleas.
Harper's Seafood is located in Thomasville, Georgia, about 35 miles northeast of Tallahassee.
Michael J. Moore, United States Attorney for the Middle District of Georgia
, announced felony guilty pleas were entered by the defendants: Junior Wayne Harper, age 59, of Thomasville, GA, Byron James Puckett, age 42, of Cairo, GA, Charles Stacy Logue, age 40, of East Point, FL, and Ronald Irvin Burdette, age 47, of Moultrie, GA.
On December 20, 2011, Harper, the owner and Chief Executive Officer of Harper's Seafood, Inc., a wholesale seafood business located in Thomasville, GA, and Puckett, the company's Vice President, pled guilty to conspiracy to purchase in interstate commerce fish which they knew had been taken and sold in violation of Florida laws and regulations, in violation of Title 16, United States Code, Sections 3372(a)(2)(A) and 3373(d)(1)(B) (the Lacey Act).
Harper and Puckett also pled guilty to making and submitting to the State of Florida a false Florida Marine Fisheries Trip Ticket by identifying an illegally purchased species of fish as a different species, also a felony violation of the Lacey Act. In addition, Harper, Logue and Burdette pled guilty to one felony count of selling and purchasing in interstate commerce fish which they knew had been taken and sold in violation of Florida laws and regulations.
illegally purchased approximately $100,000 of fish from 48 fishermen who did not have commercial licenses as required by Florida law, including Logue and Burdette. After it became known in the fishing industry that another seafood dealer was under investigation for similar violations, Harper purchased approximately $40,000 more fish from the unlicensed fishermen through his personal account. The company's business records also revealed other transactions in which Harper's Seafood purchased fish illegally, with the primary violation being that the fish were sold during a closed season.
Each felony count to which the defendants pled guilty carries a maximum possible sentence of five years imprisonment, a $250,000 fine, or both, a period of supervised release of up to three years, and a $100 mandatory assessment. The defendants will be sentenced at a later date. The case was investigated by agents with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC).