A Brooklyn fish dealer was sentenced in Central Islip federal court Wednesday to 4 months in prison for his role in a scheme to steal more than $500,000 worth of fluke, federal authorities said.
The dealer, Alan Dresner, pleaded guilty in April to wire fraud in a scheme with Levittown fisherman Anthony Joseph to falsify records and hide the theft of more than 240,000 pounds of fluke for more than two years, court papers said.
Dresner filed at least 120 false dealer reports that undercounted fluke harvested and sold to him by Joseph between July 2009 and December 2011, according to the papers.
The scheme involved manipulation of a federal fisheries program known as research set-aside, which lets fishermen bid at auction to harvest fish beyond legal limits. Money from the auction is used for fisheries research. Prosecutors say Dresner abused the program by harvesting or purchasing fish in excess of a fishermen's set-aside allotment and covering it up through false reports.
According to his plea agreement, Dresner knew in 2009 that Joseph was "cheating the New York daily trip limits and the federal research set-aside program by overharvesting and failing to report overages." Joseph had previously pleaded guilty in the case and is scheduled to be sentenced in January.
Dresner's attorney, Maurice H. Sercarz of Manhattan, said his client was remorseful and relieved the sentence was below the guidelines of 27 to 33 months. "We're sad that this will effectively mark the end of his career in the commercial fishing business," Sercarz said.
Long Island commercial fishing entities have been the focus of a two-year investigation by the Department of Justice Environment and Natural Resources Division and other federal and state authorities.
New York has a relatively low allotment of the coast-wide commercial quota for fluke (7.6 percent compared to more than 20 percent for North Carolina).More than 70 subpoenas have been issued, most on Long Island.
In part as a result of the investigation into the program, fisheries regulators earlier this year suspended the research set-aside program for all of 2015.
"Today, Dresner was held accountable for his role in defrauding a federal research program" that was designed to "ensure the long-term sustainability of Long Island's fisheries," Acting Assistant Attorney General Sam Hirsch for the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division, said in a statement.
Christopher Hale, a trial attorney for the Department of Justice on the case, also declined to comment.
Prosecutors alleged that in 2011 alone, Dresner's false reports amounted to 155,960 pounds of fish, which accounted for 39 percent of the set-aside program.
Dresner faced a maximum of 20 years in prison. Prosecutors had recommended a 30-month sentence. He must pay $510,000 in restitution, a $6,000 fine and $15,000 for a community-service fisheries program to improve fluke habitat.He also was forced to give up his dealer license and is prohibited from being an owner or officer of a fish dealer.
Once released from prison, Dresner will serve three years of supervised release.