A Bronx-based fish wholesaler who bought fluke, black sea bass and scup illegally from two Long Island fishing boats pleaded guilty Tuesday to four federal counts in a scheme prosecutors say abused a program that funds fisheries research.
Mark Parente, president of Lou's Fish Market, pleaded guilty to two counts of wire fraud, one count of aiding and abetting mail fraud and one count of falsification of federal records for fraud schemes that ran from May through December 2011, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
Parente's schemes centered on the purchase of "over-quota, unreported and illegal" fish valued at $481,000 from two Long Island fishing boat operators who court papers say were "as-yet uncharged." Neither fishing boat or captain is named, but documents filed in the case say one is based in northern Suffolk County, the other on the South Shore of Nassau County. At least five other fishermen and fish wholesalers have pleaded guilty in the ongoing probe, including four from Long Island.
The fishermen, federal officials said, abused a program known as research set-aside "as a mask for unlawful quota overages." The program allows fishermen to bid for the right to fish out of season, but has been abused by those who don't fully report their catch, as is required, federal officials said.
"In order to conceal the fishermen's illicit catch, Parente directed unwitting company personnel to prepare and file at least 78 false dealer reports . . . which omitted or misidentified approximately 203,000 pounds of fluke, 50,000 pounds of scup [or porgies] and 12,000 pounds of black sea bass," federal officials said. The case was prosecuted by Christopher Hale of the Justice Department's Environmental Crimes Section, Environment and Natural Resources Division.
Under a plea agreement, Parente would be sentenced to no more than 33 months, and he and Lou's Fish Market agreed to pay $932,000 in combined fines and $110,000 in community service payments. Parente, of English Town, New Jersey, would also be banned from holding a federal fish dealer's license. His lawyer, William Ferris of Islandia, declined to comment.
In addition to Parente's plea, Lou's Fish Market Inc. also pleaded guilty to falsifying federal records and one count of Lacey Act False Labeling for the "knowing use of false documents in connection with approximately 70,000 pounds of fluke that was shipped to interstate customers," court papers said.