Top prosecutor talks Keys cases

http://keysnews.com/node/56851

Mission: Deter overexploitation through arrests
BY ADAM LINHARDT Citizen Staff
[email protected]

The slew of convictions that followed federal investigations into the illegal use of artificial lobster habitats and sale of marine wildlife in Monroe County over the last six years was intended to send a message to the Keys community, the top prosecutor in South Florida said this week.

The U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida Wifredo Ferrer was in Key West Wednesday to discuss federal law enforcement presence in the Keys at a luncheon hosted by Monroe County State Attorney Catherine Vogel.

Ferrer discussed his wider vision for law enforcement for South Florida as well as the Keys, but after the luncheon talked more about Keys-specific issues during a telephone interview.

"The spiny lobster issues and violations involving destruction of habitat and taking of wildlife is a top priority for us," Ferrer said of the myriad cases flowing out of the Keys. "We've poured a lot of our resources into this."

Ferrer's office has the only standalone environmental task force outside of the U.S. Attorney's Office in Washington, D.C. The task force is led by Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Watts-Fitzgerald, the prosecutor who has been at the helm of every major environmental-related federal conviction in recent memory.

The investigations were dubbed "Operation Freezer Burn," "Operation Frost Bight" and "Operation Rock Bottom" and have led to multiple convictions, some 17 to date alone in the "Rock Bottom" case targeting the illegal sale of coral and other protected marine wildlife.

"Operation Rock Bottom" remains ongoing.

Enforcement gauntlet

Watts-Fitzgerald told a federal judge in one court hearing that there is a "casita curtain" along the northern backcountry waters just off the Keys. In curbing their use and by forcing those convicted of removing them at a substaintial cost, he said the government is dropping an enforcement gauntlet.

Recently, marine salvors contracted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration began removing casitas that were once placed and used by commercial lobster diver David Dreifort, who pleaded guilty to poaching charges in 2009 and served about two years in prison.

Dreifort had nearly 700 illegal casitas in waters between Big Pine Key and Key West, according to his plea agreement with federal prosecutors.

Crews are removing casitas from roughly 300 sites, according Sean Meehan, NOAA marine habitat restoration specialist who is overseeing the operation. More than half of the 300 sites have multiple casitas.

The removal, which will cost roughly $566,000, is being funded with revenue from the sale of two of Dreifort's homes in the Florida Keys.

Officials from NOAA have put a $1.2 million price tag on Dreifort's casita case. That figure includes estimates of the environmental damage, and the cost of removing the casitas.

Dreifort's arrest in 2008 at his Cudjoe Key home sparked a litnay of casita cases that led to the arrest of more than a dozen others -- from fish house operators and seafood purveyors to charter fishing guides.

Prosecutors reached a deal with Dreifort in which he would sell the two homes and the proceeds would be used to cover removal costs, Meehan said.

Legal proceedings in many of those cases have often drawn full courtrooms of supporters for defendants, who have included well-known charter fishermen, particularly in the Lower Keys.

Popular but controversial

Casita use is controversial and has pitted trap fishermen against casita divers, in which both sides argue their method is less destructive to the seagrass, coral and the environment in general.

For good or ill, casita use has remained a popular lobster-harvesting method in the Keys and spurred spirited debate among fishermen and scientists.

Most of the defendants sentenced for casita use were found guilty or pleaded guilty to violating the Lacey Act, which makes it a federal offense to import, export, transport, sell or purchase in interstate commerce any wildlife protected at the state level.

The once little-known law has been widely used in the Keys. Most defendants have been charged with conspiracy to violate the law, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison and up to $250,000 in fines.

It should be noted, however, that no one has been punished under those maximums in recent memory.

At sentencing, Watts-Fitzgerald generally asks the judge to force the defendant to forfeit their boat (or boats) and fishing gear, as well as limit or revoke their state fishing licenses -- an often crippling sentence for those who make their living on the water.

Ferrer was asked what he would say to an angry crowd of native Key Westers who gathered in a courtroom to support a friend or family member who had been arrested for casita use.

"I would say our first mission is to enforce federal law," Ferrer said, "and federal law prohibits certain activities that damage and overexploits our beautiful natural resources. I would say that it is not our job to disrupt legitimate businesses, only to make sure the rules and laws are followed. That's really our job, and that's an important job -- to protect our resources. The rule of law is what matters in any area."

Whether the convictions is curbing casita use remains to be seen, but Ferrer believes they have.

"I think the success of these cases is sending a message to the community to be mindful of our laws, and I think they are having deterrent effect in that illegal activity is not being repeated.

"I think the message here for everyone to understand is that we are putting resources in the area to make sure the Keys, the beautiful Keys, are protected from destruction and overexploitation that hurts everyone," said Ferrer. "These cases are sending the message that not only is this activity wrong, we will pursue them to the fullest extent of the law."

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Replies

  • aboveboredabovebored Posts: 1,245 Officer
    They go for the jugular with the fines for sure. Just ask the 74 yr old Little torch key man who illegally sold six live bonnet head sharks to a dealer recently and is now facing a $ 250,000 fine from NOOA. Rather excessive if you ask me.
  • dpdashdpdash Posts: 5,359 Admiral
    Interesting.........
  • sugarloafersugarloafer Posts: 195 Deckhand
    the goal of the Pew foundation and most of the socialist liberals in this country is 'all hooks out of the water'.

    a friend of mine got a manatee club guy all worked up at a boat show once and he said "We have a plan, we're going after the fishermen first, then the recreational boaters, there will someday be NO POWERBOATS!!!!!"

    laugh all you want.........but the direction its been going for the last 40 years, its not going to be funny when the illegal minorities, children, and women totally run this place.

    the socialist Disney movie said, afterall, "fish are our friends, they're not food"

    you can kiss common sense goodbye.
    custom self built 400lb 4" draft 16' microskiff
    custom self built 34' cold molded diesel flybridge lobsterboat
  • sk018sk018 Posts: 2,850 Captain
    abovebored wrote: »
    They go for the jugular with the fines for sure. Just ask the 74 yr old Little torch key man who illegally sold six live bonnet head sharks to a dealer recently and is now facing a $ 250,000 fine from NOOA. Rather excessive if you ask me.

    That is a little much wow.

    I would much rather see the guys getting caught with a couple hundred wrung lobster tails have the book thrown at them than the guy selling live bonnetheads
  • Gary S. ColecchioGary S. Colecchio Posts: 24,922 AG
    It may be helpful to cross post this very interesting article in the South forum, Adam. Since many of the offenders reside there and it may help our members identify them and aid NOAA and FWC in their prosecution.
    "If I can't win, I won't play." - Doris Colecchio.

    "Well Gary, the easiest way to look tall is to stand in a room full of short people." - Curtis Bostick

    "All these forums, with barely any activity, are like a neglected old cemetery that no one visits anymore."- anonymouse
  • KlingerKlinger Posts: 1,733 Captain
    http://keysnews.com/node/56851

    "I would say our first mission is to enforce federal law," Ferrer said, "and federal law prohibits certain activities that damage and overexploits our beautiful natural resources. I would say that it is not our job to disrupt legitimate businesses, only to make sure the rules and laws are followed. That's really our job, and that's an important job -- to protect our resources. The rule of law is what matters in any area."

    [email protected]

    I guess this doesn't apply when the border security is being discussed
    In my many years, I have come to a conclusion that one useless man is a shame,two is a law firm, and three or more is a congress.-- John Adams
  • Egrets LandingEgrets Landing Posts: 943 Officer
    Klinger wrote: »
    I guess this doesn't apply when the border security is being discussed

    If lobsters were of the same concern as people pouring into the USA illegally, the govt would be installing casitas, providing amnesty for any already located, doing what they could to keep them in place, and even paying people to support them. If the outrageous disparate respect for the rule of law by the govt. was not so disturbing, it would be funny.
  • Reef BanditReef Bandit Posts: 997 Officer
    It may be helpful to cross post this very interesting article in the South forum, Adam. Since many of the offenders reside there and it may help our members identify them and aid NOAA and FWC in their prosecution.


    Correction..... EX offenders

    BTW, Gary are you going to go lobster diving, if so, would you pick me up a couple:grin
  • sugarloafersugarloafer Posts: 195 Deckhand
    just so everyone will know..........the best tool the powers that be have is high resolution cameras in helicopters........so if you look around and see no boats, that does not mean you are not being watched......I think they have to be close enough to you for you to barely see the copter, but that could be problematic if they are smart enough to use the 'clint eastwood' trick ........of putting the sun behind them.

    I saw the result in action at Keaton beach 2 years ago during scallop season.

    some guys down the street from where we were staying evidently went out and got their limit twice in one day........coupla hours after they came in for second time 3 FWC vehicles slid in the driveway and 2 boats hit their dock.

    the cops had SKY photos of them coming in twice and cleaning their scallops........it was conclusive enough to get them charged.....and I bet convicted.

    to my knowledge they do not have spy satellite time available yet.............but I bet its coming.
    custom self built 400lb 4" draft 16' microskiff
    custom self built 34' cold molded diesel flybridge lobsterboat
  • Gary S. ColecchioGary S. Colecchio Posts: 24,922 AG
    Correction..... EX offenders

    BTW, Gary are you going to go lobster diving, if so, would you pick me up a couple:grin


    There's a federally convicted lobster and fish poacher now.
    "If I can't win, I won't play." - Doris Colecchio.

    "Well Gary, the easiest way to look tall is to stand in a room full of short people." - Curtis Bostick

    "All these forums, with barely any activity, are like a neglected old cemetery that no one visits anymore."- anonymouse
  • conchydongconchydong Pompano BeachPosts: 4,222 Captain
    Funny thing that in the Bahamas and Cuba, casitas are the preferred method of legal commercial harvest and approved by the Governments. This issue isn't about damage to the environment, it is trappers vs. divers and who has the most political clout.
    BTW, I grew up very close to the crawfish industry and spent many days working on a crawfish (trap) boat.
    If a casita gets lost (moved) or abandoned it will not affect anything except provide additional habitat. A ghost trap will keep catching until it finally rots out as long as at least 1 crawfish is in there to attract others whether its baited or not.
    This is another case of the Government gone hysterical.

    “Everyone behaves badly--given the chance.”
    ― Ernest Hemingway

  • keylargo359keylargo359 Posts: 1,249 Officer
    when its all said and done their wont even be any land owners in the keys it will all belong to the National Park Service. I was curios as to who owned the land / mangroves next to my place on Key Largo. low and behold it was United States Of America National Park service now why do they hold title to the land and not the state or private owners. this land is outside the park boundaries. These things happens so slowly that by the time your children grow up they think that is the way it's suppose to be. I could keep on a rant but that wont solve all that's going on in this country. you fathers and grand fathers need to educate you children and grand children with the truth. Before PETA AND THE REST OF THE TREE HUGGERS GET TO THEM ON TV AND PUBLIC SCHOOLS.
    The worst day of fishing is still better than the best day of work:\
  • Flatwater witchFlatwater witch Posts: 598 Officer
    Thanks for posting.
    Drones are the new inexpensive technique for law enforcement to "see" what's going on and not be seen.
    Will be interesting this lobster season to see how they are used.
    Renagade69 wrote: »
    Either you are mechanically inclined ore your not. The fact you had to ask told me that you can not do it. Its ok, not every one has this ability. Some people just have to pay.
  • Pucker FactorPucker Factor Posts: 875 Officer
    Well, as with most public topics there are realities and myths.

    Realities
    - it is illegal to dump/place material in a marine or wetland environment without a permit. There are always those that will find a way to justify this activity as no big deal. It is a big deal.

    - There are those that will site third world countries where it is legal and use that as a case for allowing it to happen here.

    - The 700 casitas that were placed by Dreifort was just from ONE guy and his crew. There are many other crews.

    - The number of estimated lobsters a crew takes off of the casitas each season is between 40-60,000. What does that do to the reproduction and availability for the recreational angler?

    - If any recreational angler rolls up on a casita, there is a 99.99% chance he will blow his limits and also break the law by taking lobsters off of unpermitted structure and in the keys it would be a federal offense.

    - This has nothing to do with removing access to the fishery. It has to do with a culture that believes they can do anything they want with marine resources.

    - The shark sales was just one of the many cases that LE's cannot chose to avoid in the kibbles and bits that come from other cases. The guy selling the bonnetheads was ONE guy that got caught. How many others are out there? What about the aquarium owner out west that was arrested twice for the same violation and then a third time for destruction of evidence.

    - Folks, there is A LOT more to the story and I hope that most of you know what is reported in the papers gets very little of the information correctly and are told only what is allowed to be reported to the public. Folks there is still, in this day and age, a lot of poaching going on.

    Gary, no need to post this in the south section now.
  • aboveboredabovebored Posts: 1,245 Officer
    No need to be on a moral high horse when it comes to casitas. Remember they were perfectly legal here in FL just a few years ago. They reduce damage to the natural coral reef and provide habitat for all sealife. As long as non toxic material is used and people take a legal limit I have no problem with them.
  • conchydongconchydong Pompano BeachPosts: 4,222 Captain
    Well, as with most public topics there are realities and myths.

    Realities
    - it is illegal to dump/place material in a marine or wetland environment without a permit. There are always those that will find a way to justify this activity as no big deal. It is a big deal.

    Yes, but could the State re-evaluate their position and legalize them?

    - There are those that will site third world countries where it is legal and use that as a case for allowing it to happen here.

    Some of those "third world" countries seem to have a more sustainable crawfishery then we have.


    - The 700 casitas that were placed by Dreifort was just from ONE guy and his crew. There are many other crews.

    Criminals will be criminals regardless. Perhaps legalization with limits would make some more honest.

    - The number of estimated lobsters a crew takes off of the casitas each season is between 40-60,000. What does that do to the reproduction and availability for the recreational angler?

    BS

    - If any recreational angler rolls up on a casita, there is a 99.99% chance he will blow his limits and also break the law by taking lobsters off of unpermitted structure and in the keys it would be a federal offense.

    More BS

    - This has nothing to do with removing access to the fishery. It has to do with a culture that believes they can do anything they want with marine resources.

    Yes the culture of Governmental control over everything whether there is a true scientific reason behind it or not.

    -

    The shark sales was just one of the many cases that LE's cannot chose to avoid in the kibbles and bits that come from other cases. The guy selling the bonnetheads was ONE guy that got caught. How many others are out there? What about the aquarium owner out west that was arrested twice for the same violation and then a third time for destruction of evidence.

    That is the judicial system. A criminal will be a criminal. If someone broke a law regardless if they like it or not, they should be held accountable.

    - Folks, there is A LOT more to the story and I hope that most of you know what is reported in the papers gets very little of the information correctly and are told only what is allowed to be reported to the public. Folks there is still, in this day and age, a lot of poaching going on.

    While I may disagree with many laws on the books, poaching is unacceptable. I still believe that casitas are not harmful to the environment and you will not change my mind. Any habitat is good habitat. Why do you think that the NMFC is proposing to sink more artificial reefs in MPAs to protect Warsaws and Kitty Mitchells]

    “Everyone behaves badly--given the chance.”
    ― Ernest Hemingway

  • INTREPID377INTREPID377 Posts: 3,732 Captain
    WOW!! Did this thread take off on a tangents.

    Enforcing current lobster regs and sending a high profile "message" is efficient law enforcement. It has nothing to do with PEW, Land Rights, fishery access or an of the other hysterical agendas posted here.

    Also, the guys that got busted in Freezer Burn have paid their dues and a pretty high price. I wish them no ill will and think it's time we leave them alone except to hold them up as an example of what happens if you break those laws.

    I use to LOVE this forum, now..........???
  • Pucker FactorPucker Factor Posts: 875 Officer
    It's a debate intrepid, nothing more, nothing less. Its a lot more constructive than much of what you are referencing.

    Okay, let's permit the casitas, post the GPS boundaries on the web just like every other artificial reef (if we are making that as an analogy) of where they can be placed on unvegetated bottom and call it a day. Let's see if those that use casitas currently will abide by those regulations and stipulations. As of right now just about every casita that I have seen and I have seen well over a couple of hundred on the north side of th Contents, were placed ON Seagrass habitat....which goes to the comment that they are not harmful to the environment.

    Could we agree that that maybe 1 in 50 keeper sized lobsters that we catch are egg bearing? If that is agreeable, there is also some environmental condition on the north side of the Contents (Gulf water) that prevents those lobsters that are in the casitas from bearing eggs. I have seen hundreds upon hundreds of lobsters in the casitas and not one has been egg bearing and nearly 99% are of keeper size.

    Oh and as far as the comments about my comments being BS? Hahahaha.
  • aboveboredabovebored Posts: 1,245 Officer
    b.s.
  • Pucker FactorPucker Factor Posts: 875 Officer
    99% are keeper, mature egg bearing age class.
  • sugarloafersugarloafer Posts: 195 Deckhand
    like a lobster knows what kind of hole its hiding in.

    and like what kind of hole you find a lobster in determines whether or not u go over limit.

    I have never gone over my limit or done double day trips in my life.

    I'm just looking for tonights dinner, in season.
    custom self built 400lb 4" draft 16' microskiff
    custom self built 34' cold molded diesel flybridge lobsterboat
  • Reef BanditReef Bandit Posts: 997 Officer
    conchydong wrote: »
    Funny thing that in the Bahamas and Cuba, casitas are the preferred method of legal commercial harvest and approved by the Governments. This issue isn't about damage to the environment, it is trappers vs. divers and who has the most political clout.
    BTW, I grew up very close to the crawfish industry and spent many days working on a crawfish (trap) boat.
    If a casita gets lost (moved) or abandoned it will not affect anything except provide additional habitat. A ghost trap will keep catching until it finally rots out as long as at least 1 crawfish is in there to attract others whether its baited or not.
    This is another case of the Government gone hysterical.

    Finally, we have someone with a brain.
  • sugarloafersugarloafer Posts: 195 Deckhand
    roger that, bandit
    custom self built 400lb 4" draft 16' microskiff
    custom self built 34' cold molded diesel flybridge lobsterboat
  • keylargo359keylargo359 Posts: 1,249 Officer
    Government always knows what's best for you :cool:
    The worst day of fishing is still better than the best day of work:\
  • Reef BanditReef Bandit Posts: 997 Officer
    It's a debate intrepid, nothing more, nothing less. Its a lot more constructive than much of what you are referencing.

    Okay, let's permit the casitas, post the GPS boundaries on the web just like every other artificial reef (if we are making that as an analogy) of where they can be placed on unvegetated bottom and call it a day. Let's see if those that use casitas currently will abide by those regulations and stipulations. As of right now just about every casita that I have seen and I have seen well over a couple of hundred on the north side of th Contents, were placed ON Seagrass habitat....which goes to the comment that they are not harmful to the environment.

    Could we agree that that maybe 1 in 50 keeper sized lobsters that we catch are egg bearing? If that is agreeable, there is also some environmental condition on the north side of the Contents (Gulf water) that prevents those lobsters that are in the casitas from bearing eggs. I have seen hundreds upon hundreds of lobsters in the casitas and not one has been egg bearing and nearly 99% are of keeper size.

    Oh and as far as the comments about my comments being BS? Hahahaha.

    So Pucker is now a marine biologist telling us that a lobster in a Casita cannot bear eggs. But wait, there's more. 99% are of legal size. Well, considering I WAS THERE, I CALL MAJOR BS to you. We did let go lobsters w eggs and we would see lots of shorts AND none and I mean NONE of our casita's were placed on seagrass, only on hard bottom (unvegetated as you call it). But wait, there's more; when you say the "crew" takes 40-60,000 lobsters, you're implying that these same lobster would not get caught by the traps that are every 100' out there. If you read one of my stories, I fished with an FWC Scientist that agrees that the Casita's are a positive, not a negative and in his opinion the traps should be removed and replaced w casita's... and remember, his paycheck has the words FWC on it. PUCKER, you and GARY need to go join PETA and go hug a tree somewhere.

    Hammer

    BTW, the guys involved in this bust I'm sure will do jail time and I highly advise people to NOT risk it, it's not worth it.
  • Gary S. ColecchioGary S. Colecchio Posts: 24,922 AG
    So Pucker is now a marine biologist...

    Actually he is , as opposed to a fish and lobster poacher convicted in federal court , fined , jailed and lost his license to practice his trade as a fishing guide.


    Jeffrey H. Sloman, Acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, Eddie McKissick, Resident Agent in Charge, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS), Hal Robbins, Special Agent in Charge, NOAA Fisheries Office of Law Enforcement, Southeast Division, Sean Morton, Superintendent of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (FKNMS), and Major Mike Edwards, Regional Commander South B, Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWCC), announced July 17 that the final defendants in an anti-poaching investigation, Operation Freezer Burn, were sentenced in federal District Court in Miami. The investigation focused on a group illegally harvesting lobsters from artificial habitat placed in the FKNMS.

    According to evidence presented to the Honorable Jose E. Martinez, United States District Court Judge, the six defendants were directly involved in the harvest of 922 whole lobster, as part of a conspiracy that illegally took 1,197 lobster on the opening day of Florida’s commercial lobster season in August 2008, and stockpiled approximately 1,700 pounds of wrung lobster tail harvested during the closed season, which was intended for sale after opening day.

    The six conspirators in the Indictment were David W. Dreifort, 41, and Denise D. Dreifort, 48, both of Cudjoe Key, Robert H. Hammer, 46, of Miami, Sean N. Reyngoudt, 25, of Summerland Key, and John R. Niles, 50, of Labelle, and Michael Delph, 39, of Key West They were each charged with harvesting spiny lobster within the FKNMS from illegally installed artificial habitat and in violation of applicable bag limits, for commercial sale in violation of the federal Lacey Act, all in violation of the federal conspiracy statute, Title 18, United States Code, Section 371.

    Defendant John Niles, the first to enter a guilty plea in this matter, cooperated in the case, and testified against his co-defendant Delph. In recognition of his acceptance of responsibility, minor role, and assistance in the case, Niles was sentenced on April 2 to a term of probation of one year.

    Michael Delph was sentenced on June 2, 2009, to a ten month term of imprisonment, a term of home confinement of six months with electronic monitoring, 100 hours of community service, and a period of supervised Defendant Sean Reyngoudt, who was sentenced on June 10, to a term of home confinement for four months with electronic monitoring, a period of probation of four years, and 300 hours of community service. The Court also prohibited Reyngoudt from any fishing activities, commercial or pleasure, within the Southern District of Florida and adjacent waters for four years.

    On June 11, Robert Hammer was sentenced to a term of imprisonment of two months, a term of home confinement for six months, with electronic monitoring, followed by a period of supervised release of two years. The Court also prohibited Hammer from any fishing activities, commercial or pleasure, within the Southern District of Florida and adjacent waters for the duration of his supervised release. David Dreifort was sentenced to imprisonment for a period of thirty months, followed by three years of supervised release. As a special condition of his sentence, Dreifort is prohibited from engaging in any fishing activities for a period of five years, in the Southern District of Florida, and waters contiguous thereto. Denise Dreifort was sentenced to imprisonment for a period of seven months, followed by three years of supervised release. As a special condition of her sentence, Denise Dreifort must also serve a term of home confinement of seven months, with electronic monitoring and is prohibited from engaging in any fishing activities for a period of five years, in the Southern District of Florida, and waters contiguous thereto.

    In addition to the other terms of their sentence, the Dreiforts were further ordered to forfeit all their right, title, and interest in three vehicles and three vessels identified inthe forfeiture count of the Indictment, which were used in the commission of the offenses charged.

    In a related matter before the Honorable James Lawrence King, United States District Court Judge, Robert H. Hammer was also convicted and sentenced in connection with the sale of fish which had been illegally received and acquired, knowing said fish was taken, possessed, transported, and sold in violation of the laws and regulations of the United States, in violation of Title 16, United States Code, Sections 3372(a)(1) and 3373(d)(1)(B). Hammer formerly held a special use permit to op[rate a commercial enterprise at Dry Tortugas National Park. The permit authorized him to bring passengers for hire to the Park [at Fort Jefferson] and engage in various activities, including recreational angling. The permit, and National Park Service (NPS) regulations, prohibit commercial fishing activities, which bars the sale of any fish harvested from Park waters. According to information presented in Court, FWS agents, assisting NPS
    Rangers, conducted surveillance of Hammer’s operations and determined that he was commercially selling fin fish to brokers and retail fish dealers in the Miami area. Witness statements and observation of his activities established that between $10,0000 and $30,000 in fair market value fish were taken from the federally protected areas and sold commercially. For his role in that case, Hammer was sentenced to serve a term of supervised release of six months to run concurrently with his sentence in Operation Freezer Burn.
    The Court further ordered Hammer to pay $20,000 to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, a Congressionally-chartered organization authorized by law to receive payments arising as a result of criminal convictions. These funds will be used by the organization to acquire and distribute commercially available side-scan sonar and Global Positioning System Tracker equipment to assist in the location, identification, and abatement of resource violations within the National Sanctuaries, Refuges, and
    Parks of the Florida Keys and adjacent waters, and to assist in the identification andapprehension of violators of the marine resource and wildlife protection laws.

    The FKNMS is a 2,900 square nautical mile area that surrounds the entire archipelago of the Florida Keys and includes the productive waters of Florida Bay, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Atlantic Ocean. It encompasses coastal and oceanic waters, and the submerged lands thereunder, surrounding the Florida Keys, and extending westward to include the Tortugas islands, but excluding Dry Tortugas National Park.

    The FKNMS supports rich biological communities with extensive conservation, recreational, commercial, ecological, historical, research, educational, and aesthetic values of national significance.

    Marine Sanctuary regulations prohibit any alterations of, or construction on the seabed of the FKNMS, as part of the effort to preserve the marine environment. In addition, the Florida Administrative Code, Chapter 68B, which apply to the FKNMS, prohibits anyone from harvesting any spiny lobster from artificial habitat. Artificial habitat is defined as “any material placed in the waters of the state that is reasonably suited to providing cover and habitat for spiny lobster.. . ” Other parts of Chapter 68B prohibit any person from commercially harvesting, attempting to harvest, or having in their possession, regardless of where taken, any spiny lobster during the closed season. The commercial season runs from August 6 through March 31 of the following year. An exception exists for the annual lobster sport mini-season. Those holding appropriate licenses and endorsements to commercially dive for lobster are limited to 250 lobster per day.
    NOAA and FWS Special Agents became aware of a group constructing artificial lobster habitat, often referred to informally as “casitas” or “condos” in the lower Keys.

    According to testimony at trial, agents tracked a boat on July 28, 2008, owned by David Dreifort, as it traveled entirely within the waters of the Sanctuary, harvesting spiny lobsters out of season. Subsequently the lobsters were placed in a freezer at a lower Keys residence, which held about 650 pounds of previously harvested, frozen tails. The pattern of stock piling and freezing lobsters taken ahead of the legal season led agentsto dub the case “Operation Freezer Burn.” Officers returned to the GPS logged sites within the FKNMS and found each site held artificial habitats. The divers also found freshly wrung spiny lobster heads.

    On opening day of the annual commercial lobster season, August 6, 2008, amulti-agency team executed a search warrant at the Dreifort residence, and executed five seizure warrants, taking custody of boats, vehicles, and a trailer used in the criminal violations. Over 1,700 pounds of frozen lobster tails, representing more than 1,000times the legal bag limit for a mini-season sport dive were seized by agents.
    The defendants, with the exception of Reyngoudt, were intercepted as they returned from a morning harvesting trip in the FKNMS, during which more than 922 lobsters were illegally harvested. Part of the harvest effort was recorded by a surveillance aircraft, and shown to the jury during the Delph trial.

    The jury also heard a statement recorded by agents on August 6, during which Delph admitted to diving on illegal habitat and harvesting an excessive number of lobsters that day. He further admitted that he had contacted David Dreifort before the season to offer his services as a lobster diver, in anticipation of being paid for his involvement, and confessed to having been involved in the same activity on multiple occasions during the prior year’s open season.

    In a parallel civil proceeding, the federal government brought suit against the Dreiforts under the National Marine Sanctuaries Act, seeking compensation for costs and damages incurred as a result of natural resource injuries caused by the Dreiforts’ artificial habitats within the Sanctuary.

    On June 17, 2009, a civil consent decree was approved and entered in the case on behalf of NOAA, to settle the federal government’s civil claims against the Dreiforts. Under the terms of the consent decree, the Dreiforts must sell two properties in the Florida Keys, including their residence at Cudjoe Key which was the staging ground for the criminal conduct, to reimburse the agency's costs and pay damages in the case. The Dreiforts will pay NOAA the proceeds from the sales, up to a maximum of $1.1 million. The funds will be used by NOAA to remove approximately 700 casitas that were illegally placed in the FKNMS. Mr. Sloman commended the coordinated investigative efforts of the NOAA Office for Enforcement, the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, and the personnel of the National Marine Fisheries Service Restoration Center and the Damage Assessment & Resource Protection Office of the National Marine Sanctuary Program which brought the matter to a successful conclusion. The criminal case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Watts-FitzGerald, in coordination with Steven Keller of the Environmental Enforcement Section of the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, DC, which prosecuted the civil claims.
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  • piner_wahoopiner_wahoo Posts: 3,358 Captain
    the election is coming up- vote out any judge you don't like! vote in any judge you do like!
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  • AMPEDAMPED Posts: 603 Officer
    Ok guys let me lay this out there......

    Bad people do bad things regardless of the laws or risk, however locks do keep honest people honest.

    Reasonable regs make sense and are followed by a vast majority of people. Although, we now longer have reasonable regs in most cases, Red snapper, Goliath grouper, etc. NOAA is a joke, and are now just used as a political arm.......

    I know my lobster spots are getting rapped by poachers as I write this. A month ago there were 50-100 lobsters in each spot when I was checking some of my areas. On opening day I will be lucky to see 1 dozen left at each spot.....I contacted FWC and never even got so much as a call back. I never take over my limit or break the laws like most on this forum. We don't need more laws, limits, preserves, etc. we just need the current laws enforced unfortunately this will not happen any time soon. Our FWC agents hands are cuffed by budgets, politics, and hippie nut jobs.......just my 2 cents. Good luck guys!!!
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  • Reef BanditReef Bandit Posts: 997 Officer
    Ah Gerald, you are so predictable. Face it, you're in love with me. You follow my posts like a blood hound after a ****. You pray each and every night that I'll slip up and get in trouble so that you can print the article and take it into your back bedroom where you can be alone with it. Gerald, I'm sorry but I'm simply not attracted to you, or any other man. While you lack testosterone it will do you no good to try and attach yourself to mine. Now, as far as Pucker being a biologist. If he is, great. I still disagree with what he said as will the other divers that were involved. You see, some people can sit in a class and get a degree, and that's fine but OTHER people actually see first hand the real world.

    But alas poor Gerald, I'm off to scout for my share of the delectable little sea cockroaches. I doubt that you'll be out on the water because most vermin can't swim.
  • gruntkinggruntking Posts: 802 Officer
    Hey Rob, how deep were the casita's usually?
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