Point Lookout fish company, executives admit to fraud in fluke purchases
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A Point Lookout fish company and two top officials pleaded guilty Wednesday to fraudulently underreporting fluke they purchased that had been caught as part of a federal research program, authorities said.
Jones Inlet Seafood Co., its president, Michael Mihale, 46, of Oceanside, and vice president Bruce Larson Jr., 35, of Freeport admitted to felonies in U.S. District Court in Central Islip.
Mihale and Larson each pleaded guilty to wire fraud and falsification of federal records. The company admitted to falsifying federal records and using false documents in connection with $100,000 worth of fluke shipped to customers in Connecticut and New Jersey.
The Department of Justice and the defendants did not respond to requests for comment.
The plea deal is part of a two-year investigation into a program that auctions off fish caught in a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration research program. The program allows fishers to pay thousands of dollars to be allowed to harvest fish above legal limits.
Money from the program goes to research, but federal prosecutors have said it's easily abused and that one target in the investigation called it a "license to steal."
Mihale and Larson found out in June 2009 that Anthony Joseph, a fishing captain, was overharvesting fluke through the program and began making regular illegal purchases from him, authorities said. Joseph pleaded guilty earlier to wire fraud and filing false reports.
According to the Department of Justice, the plea deal calls for Mihale, Larson and their company to pay between $222,000 and $276,000 in fines and restitution, as well as $30,000 in community service to the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County to enhance fluke habitats.
Mihale and Larson will be barred from holding a federal fish dealer license or being in a position to direct others to complete fish dealer reports. Sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 12.