As feds reduce sentences for drug dealers, NY fisherman gets jail time for too many flounder

The residents of Long Island can rest easier in their beds knowing that another dangerous criminal has been taken out of commission thanks to the diligent work of the Justice Department. Anthony Joseph has finally been brought to justice and won’t plague the coastal residents any longer. What was the nature of his crime spree? He failed to properly report the correct number of flounder that he caught on his fishing boat, and for that he’s heading off to jail, spending years on probation and facing more than a half million dollars in fines.

Anthony Joseph, a commercial fisherman from Levittown, New York, was sentenced today in federal court in Central Islip, New York, to seven months in prison for federal violations stemming from his role in systematically underreporting fluke (summer flounder) that was being harvested as part of the federal Research Set-Aside (RSA) Program, the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division announced.

Joseph was also sentenced to three years of supervised release following his incarceration and to pay $603,000 in restitution.

Joseph, the former operator of the dragger F/V Stirs One, pleaded guilty on April 11, 2014, to one count of mail fraud, two counts of wire fraud and one count of falsification of federal records for knowingly submitting 158 falsified fishing logs, known as fishing vessel trip reports (FVTRs) and aiding and abetting the submission of 167 falsified dealer reports from June 2009 through December 2011, as part of a scheme to defraud the United States of overharvested and underreported fluke.

If you read the full report from Justice you’ll see that they had to invest a lot of resources into bringing Mr. Joseph to bay. They had to scrutinize years worth of his fishing logs and then match them against the purchasing reports of seafood dealers who buy commercial seafood straight off the docks. They were eventually able to determine that the captain’s numbers didn’t match up properly and he had taken in more flounder than Uncle Sam allows. I’m not even sure if the Major Crimes unit from the Wire could have cracked this one, so well done, feds. You got your man.

I heard of this story from Judicial Watch, who describe these as embarrassing times for the Justice Department. There seems to be some sort of disconnect between the rush to release drug offenders as quickly as possible and the emphasis being placed on fishing violations and the resources being directed towards such investigations, prosecutions and applied penalties.

As part of the movement the U.S. Sentencing Commission lowered maximum sentences for drug offenders and made it retroactive. Last week the administration started releasing the first wave of 6,000 drug convicts who will get out of jail early. In all, about 50,000 prisoners are eligible for early release and federal authorities claim they’re all “non-violent” offenders whose sentences were too long in the first place. Federal prosecutors have warned that drug trafficking is inherently violent and therefore the phrase “non-violent drug offenders” is a misnomer. The nation’s prosecutors also caution that reducing prison sentences for drug offenders will weaken their ability to bring dangerous drug traffickers to justice.

The new more lenient penalty stops the justice system from unfairly targeting minorities and the poor, according to Obama’s first Attorney General, Eric Holder, a driving force behind the change. While drug offenders get off easy in the name of racial justice, the administration has increased punishment for violating federal regulations involving less serious acts such as reeling in too many fish. The feds actually went after a commercial fisherman named Anthony Jospeh for “Fisheries Fraud” because he caught too many fluke. Then, he lied about it to the government—“systematically underreporting fluke”—and that got him in a boatload of trouble.

Two of the primary arguments we hear in favor of these mass releases of drug offenders are that it costs too much money to keep housing so many people in jail and that it’s inhumane to begin with. The drug offenders aren’t all that dangerous we’re told, so tossing them all in jail is self defeating. But we’re throwing the captain of a fishing trawler in the slammer for exceeding his flounder quota? Wouldn’t a fine based on the total overage and a warning to keep his numbers lower have served the same purpose?

These are the priorities of the federal government these days I suppose. The world has been well and truly turned on its head.