LAWFUEL – Law News, Law Jobs Network – R. Alexander Acosta, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, Sue Ellen Wooldridge, Assistant Attorney General of the Justice Department’s Environment & Natural Resources Division, Dale Jones, Director, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Office of Fisheries Law Enforcement, and Jesus Torres, Special Agent in Charge, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, announced today that Antonio Vidal Pego, 33, of Rebeira, Spain, and Fadilur, S.A., a Uruguayan corporation, pled guilty and were sentenced in connection with charges related to an attempt to import and sell illegally possessed toothfish, commonly known as Chilean seabass. Fadilur was convicted on its plea to false labeling, importation of illegally possessed fish, and attempted sale of that fish. Additionally, both Fadilur and defendant Vidal were convicted of obstructing justice.
According to the Indictment and statements at the plea hearing before United States District Court Judge Ursula Ungaro-Benages, in May 2004, Antonio Vidal Pego and Fadilur, S.A. knowingly attempted to import approximately 53,000 pounds of toothfish from Singapore into Miami, for sale in the United States, knowing that the fish were taken and transported in violation of the Antarctic Marine Living Resources Convention and provisions of U.S. law enacted to implement the conservation measures adopted by the Treaty parties. The Indictment further charged that the defendants made and submitted a false record and account for fish intended to be imported into the United States from Singapore. Finally, the Indictment charged that in July 2004, the defendants knowingly altered and made a false entry in a Survey Report purporting to reflect a toothfish cargo off-loaded at Singapore from the F/V CARRAN with the intent to obstruct and influence the investigation and proper administration of a matter within the jurisdiction of the NOAA.
According to records in the case, the government seized more than 53,000 pounds of toothfish, valued at wholesale prices of $314,397.30, which arrived in Miami aboard a cargo vessel from the CARRAN catch. This is the first successful federal felony prosecution in the United States for activities involving illegal importation and sale of toothfish. A total of 11 cargo containers of toothfish, with an approximate wholesale value of $3.5 million, from the F/V CARRAN catch was shipped on three separate vessels as part of the effort to import the illegal fish into the United States. NOAA and ICE agents in Miami, Los Angeles, and New York seized all the containers. The plea agreements in this case include provisions requiring the forfeiture of all the fish, or the proceeds of the government’s sale of the fish, to the United States.
Judge Ungaro-Benages accepted the guilty pleas of the defendants and proceeded to immediate sentencing. Antonio Vidal Pego, as a result of cooperation provided to the United States government in the investigation or prosecution of others, was placed on probation for a period of four years, and is required as a condition of that probation to cease all involvement in the toothfish industry, direct or indirect. The Court’s Probation Office and the U.S. government are empowered to enforce this provision by examining the books and records of any business activities of Vidal and to require his appearance in the United States as necessary. Further, Vidal has been required to provide a waiver of extradition for use in the event a violation of the terms of the sentence arises. A criminal fine of $400,000 was also imposed against Vidal by the Court, which will be paid into the Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries Conservation and Management Act Fund.
Fadilur, S..A. was also placed on probation for a period of four years. Additionally, the company was fined $100,000, payable to the Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries Conservation and Management Act Fund, and is required by the terms of its plea and the sentence, to cease all corporate activities and dissolve as a business entity within 45 days.
Patagonian toothfish (Dissostichus eleginoides) and Antarctic toothfish (Dissostichus mawsonii), a.k.a. Chilean seabass, are slow-growing, deep sea species of fish found throughout large areas of the sub-Antarctic oceans. They can live approximately 40 years and breed relatively late in life. The Antarctic toothfish is found only in very southern latitudes and alongside the Antarctic icepack and reaches a smaller maximum length than the Patagonian toothfish. Chilean seabass has been the subject of international conservation efforts in the face of increased fishing pressure from both legal and “pirate” fishing.
The harvest and trade of Chilean seabass is regulated under the international Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, implemented in the United States through the Antarctic Marine Living Resources Act. The treaty and implementing laws, set forth in detail in the Indictment, require specific documentation to follow legally harvested toothfish from the point of harvest to the point of final import for consumption.
Mr. Acosta commended the investigative efforts of the Special Agents of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries, Office of Law Enforcement, with assistance from the Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection Service, who cooperated in this investigation, known as Operation Coldfish. The case is being prosecuted for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Southern District of Florida by Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Watts-FitzGerald and the Environmental Crimes Section of the U.S. Department of Justice by Senior Counsel James Morgulec.
A copy of this press release may be found on the website of the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida at www.usdoj.gov/usao/fls . Related court documents and information may be found on the website of the District Court for the Southern District of Florida at http://www.flsd.uscourts.gov/ or on http://pacer.flsd.uscourts.gov/ .