The U.S. Department of Justice on Wednesday indicted a Montauk fisherman and two family members from the storied Gosman's seafood business on federal charges of conspiring to illegally harvest and sell fish caught above legal limits.
The federal indictment unsealed Wednesday charges Chris Winkler, 61, Bryan Gosman, 48, and Asa Gosman, 45, with conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud and obstruction of justice in the alleged scheme. The Justice Department said the offenses took place between May 2014 and July 2016 involving more than $250,000 of over-quota fluke and black sea bass. A Gosman family business, Bob Gosman Co. Inc., also was charged as part of the multi-count indictment.
According to prosecutors, Winkler, captain of the New Age fishing trawler in Montauk, caught 74,000 pounds of fluke and sea bass over the federal limits during 70 fishing trips at the time. He initially sold the fish to a now-shuttered fish dealer operating at the New Fulton Fish Market, in which the Gosmans had an ownership interest, court papers say. When that company went out of business, Winkler allegedly sold a portion of his catch to Bob Gosman Co., where the two Gosmans had management and ownership roles.
Gosman Co. is part of the larger family-owned operation, known as Gosman's Dock at Montauk Harbor in Montauk, that also includes a popular restaurant, seafood market and souvenir shops. None of those operations was named as part of the case.
Bryan Gosman, reached on Wednesday, said he had not seen the indictment and declined to comment.
Peter Smith, an attorney for Winkler, said he was unaware of the charges until a reporter's call late Wednesday and said he’d comment "after I have a chance to read and study the court papers." Asa Gosman couldn’t be reached.
The Justice Department charged that the Gosmans obstructed the investigation by "corruptly withholding certain documents and records sought by a federal grand jury." Winkler was also charged with obstruction by allegedly falsifying fishing reports.
None of those charged have been arraigned. U.S. Department of Justice spokeswoman Danielle Nichols said the agency would have no comment beyond the indictment.
The U.S. Department of Justice’s environmental crimes section has been investigating Long Island and New York fishermen and fish dealers for nearly a decade.
The first raids by the Justice Department took place in 2012, when the federal government said it had begun an investigation of a program called Research Set-Aside that allowed fishermen to buy the rights to harvest fish above the legal quotas by bidding at an annual auction. Prosecutors have previously alleged some fishermen abused the program to harvest fish well above their set-aside allotment.
Some 70 subpoenas have been issued in the case, prosecutors have said, including to entities in Montauk, but no cases had been filed in that East End hamlet until Wednesday.
Since the probe began, the federal government has negotiated at least seven guilty pleas with fishermen and fish dealers, from Mattituck to Freeport, with hundreds of thousands in fines and restitution paid and prison terms for at least four, Newsday has reported.
But one local fisherman, Thomas Kokell of Northport, fought the federal case against him, which resulted in a mistrial. Kokell ultimately reached a deferred prosecution agreement with prosecutors in 2018 and served no time in prison. He, too, had been accused of illegally harvesting fluke over the federal limit and charged with four counts of mail fraud, conspiracy and filing false fishing reports. Those charges have been dismissed.