3 March 205 – LAWFUEL – The Law News Network – The United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California announced that North Coast Fisheries Inc. (North Coast), along with its President, Michael Lucas, 40, of Santa Rosa, California, pleaded guilty yesterday to one count of making false statements regarding the amount of groundfish they were purchasing from fishermen. North Coast is a commercial fish dealer in Santa Rosa that purchased federally-regulated groundfish from fishermen. North Coast pled guilty to making a false statement and Michael Lucas, its President, entered a plea for aiding and abetting in the offense. The term groundfish includes several different species of rockfish, sablefish, petrale sole, and lingcod.
The Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC), which includes federal, state and local government officials, manages groundfish along the West Coast. The PFMC sets quotas or “trip limits,” which are the amounts that a fishing vessel may catch of a certain species. The trip limits ensure that fisheries along the West Coast are not over-fished to exhaustion. The trip limits set by the PFMC vary depending on the species of fish.
State and federal law requires that fish dealerships, such as North Coast, fill out and submit fish landing receipts in order to report all landings of groundfish received and ultimately purchased from fishermen. Federal agents of the National Marine Fisheries Service rely on accurate landing receipts to enforce trip limits on the amounts of fish that can be lawfully caught under federal regulations. The PFMC also relies upon accurate landing receipts in setting trip limits. Federal law prohibits filing false landing receipts.
“Our environmental agencies depend on accurate records to estimate future catch limits and maintain healthy fisheries. If fishing industry companies and chief executives make false statements, it harms our fisheries and puts honest fishermen at a disadvantage. The U.S. Attorney’s Office will continue to criminally prosecute those who make false statements to any agency of the United States Government,” said Kevin V. Ryan, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California.
North Coast, Michael Lucas, and Peter Pomilia (a former North Coast manager) were initially indicted on November 2, 2004. Mr. Pomilia previously pled guilty to submitting false information to a Marine Fisheries Council in violation of 16 U.S.C. § 1857.
Michael Lucas faces a maximum statutory penalty of five years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine for making a false statement to the government in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1001. North Coast faces a maximum fine of $500,000 for making a false statement in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1001. Peter Pomilia faces a maximum statutory penalty of one year imprisonment and a $100,000 fine for submitting a false statement to a Marine Fisheries Council, in violation of 16 U.S.C. § 1857.
North Coast and Michael Lucas are scheduled to be sentenced on May 25, 2005, at 2:15 p.m. before United States District Judge Charles R. Breyer in San Francisco. The sentencing of Peter Pomilia will be on May 11, 2005, at 2:15 p.m. before Judge Breyer in San Francisco.
The prosecution is the result of a 3-year investigation by agents of the National Marine Fisheries Service, which is part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California. Lawrence J. Leigh and Stacey Geis are the Assistant U.S. Attorneys who are prosecuting the case.
A copy of this press release may be found on the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s website at www.usdoj.gov/usao/can . Related court documents and information may be found on the District Court website at www.cand.uscourts.gov or on