Discrepancies between internal business records and official reports filed with federal fisheries regulators have taken center stage in the federal government’s case against a Montauk commercial fishing captain.
Key witnesses for the government laid the foundation of its contention that fisherman Christopher Winkler of Montauk illegally overharvested more than $800,000 in fluke and black sea bass between 2014 and 2016. He has pleaded not guilty.
Fish dealer Asa Gosman acknowledged on the stand that he had reached a cooperation agreement with the government in the hopes of lowering any potential prison sentence. He and his cousin Bryan Gosman in 2021 pleaded guilty to lesser counts in the case, part of a decadelong probe of commercial fishing in New York. The case has already seen more than a dozen guilty pleas, from Point Lookout to Mattituck. Winkler stands accused of filing more than 200 false fishing reports. His is only the second case to go to trial.
Department of Justice prosecutor Kenneth Nelson walked Gosman through more than a dozen pages of documents shown on overhead projectors, allegedly detailing how Gosman and Winkler conspired to falsify official reports of Winkler’s catch on the trawler New Age. Both the vessel’s trip report of his catch and Gosman’s dealer report of what he received showed the landed fish to be within state limits for fluke and black sea bass.
But separate purchase orders of the actual fish count and value by a Gosman-affiliated company known as GNY showed what the government contended were the actual amounts, in some cases hundreds of pounds or more than a thousand pounds higher. Sending those dealer and fishing-trip reports through the U.S. mail and electronically are the foundation of the government's allegations of mail and wire fraud.
Testimony also turned to Asa Gosman’s personal struggles, including years of alcohol and drug use during the years he filed the reports, though he said he stopped using both seven years ago and has agreed to be drug-tested periodically as part of his plea agreement. He said his drug and alcohol use didn't affect his ability to file business records.
Asa Gosman said he and Winkler had previously been friends in the close-knit Montauk community, where Winkler’s 45-foot trawler is moored 10 yards from Gosman’s fish market at the mouth of the Montauk Inlet.
During questioning by prosecutor Kenneth Nelson on Wednesday, Asa Gosman outlined the process of substituting high-quota fish such as porgies and squid on falsified dealer reports for lower-quota fish such as fluke to disguise fluke being shipped and sold to the Fulton Fish Market. He also acknowledged he and Bryan Gosman removed fishing records from the GNY business in which they had an interest and "threw them in the dumpster."
"We were scared the government was going to find them," Asa Gosman said. "It was a big mistake."
The government ultimately dropped a charge of obstruction after Gosman reached a cooperation agreement in November 2021.
Under questioning by Winkler's attorney Richard Levitt on Wednesday, Asa Gosman admitted that Gosman's "regularly" bought "under the table" fish from six to 12 other fishermen between 2014 and 2017, paying cash and not reporting it as required. He said it was "possible some of it would go to Fulton" Fish Market.
Asa Gosman later told Levitt "I don't sell over-quota fish now."
The 13 family members who own the Gosman enterprise in Montauk were all "upset" when they learned of his dealings and indictment, Asa Gosman said. The land and businesses have been on the market for as much as $45 million.
Bryan Gosman, manager of Gosman's Fish Market who also reached an immunity deal with the government, acknowledged on the witness stand Wednesday that he on numerous occasions acted as a "lookout" for Winkler to warn him if law enforcement officers were on the dock or around the local Coast Guard station when Winkler was heading to Montauk to unload fish.
Asked why he played lookout by prosecutor Christopher Hale, Gosman responded, "Because there was illegal fish."