Plea Shows Fraud Afoot in Fulton Fish Market

     CENTRAL ISLIP, N.Y. (CN) – A fishmonger pleaded guilty Tuesday to a systematic cover-up related to the excessive harvesting of fluke, scup and black sea bass in New York.
     Assistant Attorney General John Cruden noted that the Fulton Fish Market dealer’s case was especially “aggravated because the participants took advantage of a federal program designed to study fish populations and enable law-abiding fishermen to increase their catch.”
     The schemes orchestrated by Mark Parente, of Englishtown, N.J, involved two Long Island trawlers, one based in southern Nassau County and another in northern Suffolk County, prosecutors say.
     Guilty pleas filed Tuesday by Parente and his business, Lou’s Fish Market, note that Parente concealed illicit catch by directing unwitting employees to prepare and file at least 78 false dealer reports to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
     These NOAA reports omitted or misidentified approximately 203,000 pounds of fluke (summer flounder), 50,000 pounds of scup and 12,000 pounds of black sea bass, according to a statement from the Justice Department.
     Court records show that the wholesale value of the fish was stipulated as $481,000.
     Parente 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.
     Lou’s Fish Market Inc.,a federally licensed fish dealer in the Bronx, pleaded guilty to the falsification of federal records charge. It also copped to one count of false labeling under the Lacey Act “for the knowing use of false documents in connection with approximately 70,000 pounds of fluke that was shipped to interstate customers,” according to the DOJ statement.
     Prosecutors say the scheme ran from May through December 2011, and that the trawlers uses the federal Research Set-Aside (RSA) program to mask unlawful quota overages.
     The plea deal requires Parente and his business to pay $932,000 in combined fines and restitution.
     The defendants will also put $110,000 toward the enhancement of seagrass and fluke habitat around Long Island.
     Parente is now banned from holding a federal dealer license or being in a position to direct others to complete dealer reports.
     He also cannot access an NOAA computer system or participate in the RSA program.
     Lou’s Fish Market faces increased recordkeeping and auditing requirements.
     Sentencing recommendations regarding other terms will go before the court on Dec. 3.

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