By Bernard Vaughan
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A Long Island fish dealer pleaded guilty in federal court in New York on Wednesday to falsifying records by underreporting the amount of fluke it handled, the U.S. Department of Justice said in a news release.
Jones Inlet Seafood Co Inc of Point Lookout, its President Michael Mihale and Vice President Bruce Larson Jr. pleaded guilty in Central Islip federal court to underreporting the fish, also known as summer flounder, which was being harvested as part of a federal program.
Mihale and Larson directed "unwitting subordinates" to falsify and submit fisheries dealer reports from June 2009 through December 2011, defrauding the government of 56,000 pounds (25,000 kg) of overharvested and underreported fluke valued at $116,000, the Justice Department said.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration uses dealer report data to implement management measures aimed at ensuring sustainable fisheries, the Justice Department said.
Mihale and Larson bought the illegal fluke from Anthony Joseph, the captain of a fishing vessel who was overharvesting the fish. Joseph pleaded guilty to his role in the scheme in April, according to the Justice Department.
Mihale and Larson pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud and one count of falsification of federal records. The company pleaded guilty to falsifying federal records and a count of false labeling in connection with approximately $100,000 worth of fluke that was shipped to customers in Connecticut and New Jersey, the Justice Department said.
As part of a plea deal, Mihale, Larson and Jones Inlet agreed to pay as much as $276,000 in fines and restitution. They also agreed to make a $30,000 community service payment to support fluke habitat through a Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County program, the Justice Department said.
Mihale and Larson could not immediately be reached for comment.
(Reporting by Bernard Vaughan; Editing by Eric Beech)