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Fish Market Managers Plead Guilty to Fraud, Conspiracy

Thu, 11/18/2021 - 17:46
The New Age, a fishing vessel owned by Christopher Winkler, was reportedly embroiled in an alleged conspiracy involving over-limit catches of fluke and black sea bass.
Air Station Cape Cod

Two cousins who are members of the Gosman family of Montauk pleaded guilty in federal court in Central Islip on Thursday to one felony count of criminal conspiracy for their role in a scheme to purchase illegal fluke and black sea bass from a Montauk fisherman, the federal Department of Justice announced on Thursday.

Bob Gosman Co. Inc., of which Bryan Gosman and Asa Gosman are part owners, also pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor counts under the Lacey Act, which prohibits the sale, purchase, or acquisition of fish taken in violation of United States law.

Thursday’s guilty pleas came seven months after a federal grand jury indicted the cousins and Christopher Winkler, owner of the commercial fishing boat New Age, who allegedly took fluke and black sea bass in excess of federal catch quotas.

The April 20 indictment charged the three men with conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud as well as to unlawfully frustrate the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration's efforts at regulating federal fisheries.

The indictment alleged that between May 2014 and July 2016, Mr. Winkler, as captain of the New Age, went on some 70 fishing trips where he caught fluke or black sea bass in excess of applicable quotas. Bryan and Asa Gosman admitted that this fish was then sold to Greater New York Fish, a now-defunct company in which they had an ownership interest, in the New Fulton Fish Market in the Bronx. After Greater New York Fish ceased operation, the cousins contend that Mr. Winkler sold a much smaller quantity of his illegal catch directly to Bob Gosman Co. Inc. In court documents, they admit that the sales of illegal fish to both companies totaled at least $240,000 wholesale.

The men conspired to take at least 74,000 pounds of fluke, also known as summer flounder, to market, the Justice Department said in April. Fluke is a highly regulated species and has long been a source of contention among federal fisheries officials, recreational and commercial fishing advocates, and the representatives of the Mid-Atlantic and New England states.

Reached by The Star on Thursday, both Bryan Gosman and Asa Gosman declined to comment.

Under federal law, a fishing captain is required to accurately detail his catch on a Fishing Vessel Trip Report, or FVTR, which is sent to NOAA. The first company that buys fish directly from a fishing vessel is termed a fish dealer, and fish dealers are required to specify what they purchase on a federal form known as a dealer report, which is transmitted electronically to NOAA. NOAA uses this information to set policies designed to ensure a sustainable fishery.

Bryan Gosman and Asa Gosman stated that part of the conspiracy was to falsify both FVTRs and dealer reports to hide the fact that fish were taken in excess of quotas. They also admitted to obstructing NOAA’s investigation into the conspiracy through the joint destruction of incriminating business records that Bryan Gosman had removed from the defunct Greater New York Fish in March 2017. These records would have been responsive to a then-outstanding grand jury subpoena.

As part of the plea deal for the company, Bob Gosman Co. Inc. agreed to pay a fine of $50,000 and be placed on probation for four years. The company also will have to implement an environmental compliance plan with enhanced monitoring, training, and inspection requirements.

Sentencing hearings will be set at a future date. A trial date for Mr. Winkler has not been set.

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