Three charged with multiple felonies exploiting South Florida commercial fishing industry - South Dade News Leader: Sports

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Three charged with multiple felonies exploiting South Florida commercial fishing industry

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Posted: Thursday, March 21, 2019 5:49 pm | Updated: 6:05 pm, Thu Mar 21, 2019.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) investigators charged three individuals after a two-year investigation, dubbed “Operation Thimblerig,” breaking up a criminal conspiracy involving the exploitation of the spiny lobster commercial fishery. The suspects are charged with numerous felony charges, including racketeering, conspiracy to commit racketeering, organized scheme to defraud, criminal use of personal identification, and official misconduct pertaining to the sale and transfer of Spiny Lobster Trap Certificates as well as obtaining Restricted Species Endorsements on Saltwater Products Licenses.

Over the course of the operation, two undercover officers placed illegal transactions with the primary suspect in the case, Elena Reyes. Reyes owns and operates Florida Marine Fisheries Consultant, Inc. and has created a far-reaching scheme that has defrauded the State of Florida out of hundreds of thousands of dollars. The scheme has also enabled individuals to illegally receive commercial fishing licenses, unfairly competing with legitimate stakeholders, all while enriching herself and other bad actors in the industry. 

In the conduct of these crimes, Elena Reyes was assisted by another individual whose information is exempt from disclosure.*

Investigative work, in addition to the undercover and surveillance operations, revealed that, instead of correctly reporting the actual sale price of a trap tag transfer, Reyes was reporting a sale price much lower than what was actually paid – usually by $100-$200 per tag, resulting in a considerable deficit in surcharges due to the State of Florida. By grossly reducing the price of the certificates, Elena Reyes saved her clients money by defrauding the State of Florida roughly $200,000.

In addition to misreporting sale prices on behalf of her “clients,” Reyes also used commercial fishing licensees’ personal information to falsify Crew Share Statements on behalf of other individuals desiring to receive a Restricted Species Endorsement when most of them would not have qualified legally, and even went so far as to abuse her sworn oath as a notary public. In completing Crew Share Statements, Elena Reyes knowingly and purposely utilized the personal identification of multiple subjects. Information used included names, last five digits of Social Security numbers and Saltwater Products License

numbers. The subjects did not authorize the use of their personal identification information for the Crew Share Statements. Reyes gained possession of the personal identification information through the subjects being her clients and/or conducting business that ended up being processed through her at some point. Throughout the years, Reyes has created more than 200 falsified Crew Share Statements.

Approximately 60 victims have been identified.

The suspects and their charges are as follows:

Elena Reyes (DOB 10/12/1951) of Palmetto Bay

• Racketeering - First Degree Felony

• Conspiracy to Commit Racketeering - First Degree Felony

• Organized Scheme to Defraud – Second Degree Felony

• Criminal Use of Personal ID – Third Degree Felony (30 Counts)

• Official Misconduct – Third Degree Felony (27 Counts)

Unidentified Defendant *Redaction pursuant to F.S. 119.071(4)(d)

• Organized Scheme to Defraud – Second Degree Felony

Oscar Martin (DOB 12/29/64) of Weston

• Conspiracy to Commit Racketeering - First Degree Felony

“Many of these suspects were part of a criminal conspiracy,” said Maj. Alfredo Escanio, commander of the South Bravo Region. “Their crimes pose serious environmental and economic consequences. These suspects not only damage Florida’s valuable natural resources, they also harm law-abiding commercial fishermen by undermining the legal process.”

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