Caught is Scheme to Steal $500k in Fluke
October 22, 1014 Alan Dresner, a federally-licensed fish dealer from Brooklyn, New York, was sentenced today in federal court in Central Islip, New York, for violations stemming from his role in systematically underreporting fluke (summer flounder) that was being harvested as part of the federal Research Set-Aside (RSA) Program, the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division announced.
On April 23, 2014, Alan Dresner pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud. The scheme involved his personal falsification and internet submission of at least 120 fisheries dealer reports from July 2009 to December 2011, as part of a scheme to defraud the United States of 246,376 pounds of overharvested and underreported fluke valued at $510,000.
As part of his sentence, Dresner will serve four months in prison followed by three years of supervised release. The defendant was fined $6000 and ordered to make a $15,000 community service payment to the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County in order to pay for the enhancement of fluke habitat in the waters of Long Island through the C.C.E.’s Marine Meadows Program. Dresner was ordered to pay $510,000 in restitution to the Marine Resources Account of the New York State Conservation Fund. Dresner was also ordered to surrender his federal dealer license and was banned from accessing the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) SAFIS computer system.
“Today, Dresner was held accountable for his role in defrauding a federal research program, a program whose purpose is to help ensure the long-term sustainability of Long Island’s fisheries,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Sam Hirsch for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “We are committed to protecting the natural resources that the American people depend on today and for future generations as well.”
“This scheme to land tremendous amounts of overages for profit was not only detrimental to the RSA program, but also to the law abiding fishermen who will not be able to participate in this program in 2015,” said NOAA Special Agent Logan Gregory. “The Office of Law Enforcement will continue to focus on ensuring a level playing field by investigating these types of environmental crimes.”
Alan Dresner is “Fish Dealer X” as that person is identified in the related case of U.S. v. Anthony Joseph. As a federal fish dealer, Dresner had a NOAA permit to purchase fish directly from commercial fishing vessels without having to go through an intermediary. In July 2009, Dresner learned that Anthony Joseph, captain of the F/V Stirs One, was consistently overharvesting fluke through Joseph’s abuse of the RSA Program. By July 2009, Dresner was making regular purchases of illegal fluke from Joseph at the Point Lookout, New York, waterfront.
In order to cover-up his illegal fishing, Joseph would mail falsified fishing logs, known as FVTRs, to NOAA. However, falsified FVTRs were just one side of the coin. This is because fish dealers are required to report their purchases to NOAA on an electronic form known as a dealer report. The dealer reports include information such as date of landing, port of landing, catch vessel, corresponding FVTR numbers, commercial grade, species, price, and weight. NOAA utilizes the data in the dealer reports to set quotas and implement other management measures designed to ensure a sustainable fisheries. The dealer reports also serve as a check on the information that is submitted in FVTRs. In other words, for their scheme to work, the false data on the FVTRs had to match the false data on the dealer reports. A mismatch would have indicated a serious error or fraud, and would have been a red flag for fisheries managers. Accordingly, during July 2009 to December 2011, the defendant schemed with Anthony Joseph to file at least 120 false dealer reports with NOAA, representing a loss of 246,376 pounds of fluke valued at $510,000.
Theft of domestic marine resources has far-reaching consequences beyond illicit financial gain. Fisheries managers operate on the basic assumption that fishers and dealers make accurate and honest reports to NOAA. When harvested fish is misreported or unreported, the integrity of fisheries statistics and associated mathematical models are jeopardized. Recently, based in large part on the recently quantified illegal fluke harvesting revealed by the guilty pleas in the Jones Inlet Seafood, Charles Wertz Jr., Anthony Joseph, and Dresner cases, on Aug. 12, 2014, the Mid-Atlantic Fisheries Management Council voted to suspend the RSA Program for 2015 in order analyze the effect illegal fishing has had on the soundness of the RSA Program.
Anthony Joseph pleaded guilty to wire fraud, mail fraud, and falsification of federal records on April 11, 2014, for his fisheries fraud crimes related to Alan Dresner and Jones Inlet Seafood. He is scheduled to be sentenced on May 20, 2015.
The case was investigated by agents of NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service, 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.