A commercial fisherman from East Meadow was sentenced Friday to 366 days in prison and more than $105,000 in penalties in connection with a scheme to underreport 86,080 pounds of fluke harvested between 2009 and 2011, federal officials said.
Charles Wertz Jr., who had operated the Freeport-based commercial trawler the Norseman, pleaded guilty in August to one count of wire fraud and two counts of falsification of federal records. As part of the plea deal, he will also have to sell his boat, give up his federal fishing license and do 100 hours of community service after he's released from prison.
Wertz flouted fluke quotas by "systematically" overharvesting the fish on 137 trips -- totaling 86,080 pounds of fluke worth some $200,000 -- and lied about his catch on required reports to federal agencies, according to the U.S. Justice Department and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The fish dealing company that he owns, C&C Ocean Fishery Ltd., was sentenced Friday to pay a $275,000 fine, $99,800 in restitution and a $1,600 special assessment after pleading guilty in August to wire fraud and three counts of falsification of records.
As a fish dealer, it was supposed to log in reports on fishing vessels, including date and port of landing and the type and weight of fish caught. But because it falsified records to match those from Wertz, federal officials had a tougher time detecting the overharvesting of fluke, also known as summer flounder, authorities said.
C&C Ocean Fishery also will have to close within 90 days as part of the plea deal.
Wertz had participated in the U.S. research set-aside program, which allows fishermen to buy the right to harvest allotments of fish beyond the federal quotas. Money from a set-aside auction is used for fisheries research.
Under the deal, he will be banned from the program. Wertz's attorney could not be immediately reached Friday.
Wyn Hornbuckle, a Justice Department spokesman, said the Wertz prosecution was the first involving the research set-aside program, and that the investigation is ongoing. Wertz must surrender by Feb. 28.
With Mark Harrington