CENTRAL ISLIP, N.Y. (AP) - A Long Island fisherman is fighting federal conspiracy and fraud charges in an uncommon criminal trial: It’s focused on allegations of overfishing.
Thomas Kokell is the first Long Island fisherman to demand a trial on such charges, according to Newsday . Kokell, of East Northport, has pleaded not guilty.
Kokell is accused of taking 196,000 pounds more fluke than he was allowed in 2011, netting about $400,000. Prosecutors say he schemed with a Bronx fish dealer to cover up the illegal haul by mislabeling it as other species, such as whiting.
The buyer, Mark Parente, pleaded guilty in 2015 to aiding and abetting mail fraud and falsifying federal records. He’s the key witness against Kokell.
Parente testified that he sometimes used different-colored ink on sales sheets to keep track of the racket: blue ink for figures that really reflected the fish he’d bought from Kokell, and red ink for “what I fudged it up to be. … because we were over the limit of fluke.”
Kokell’s lawyers have questioned the evidence and Parente’s credibility.
Under cross-examination, Parente acknowledged lying to investigators and breaching his bail agreement by continuing a gambling habit, according to Newsday. The defense also showed that Parente gave false answers on a fish dealer’s license application and violated his bail agreement by traveling beyond New York and New Jersey, the newspaper said.
The case stemmed from a larger probe of a federal program that lets fishermen buy additional rights to catch fish beyond normal quotas, as a way of raising money for fisheries research. Seven people have pleaded guilty.
Kokell, meanwhile, has sold his boat, the Cindisea. He’s now clamming before court every day to raise money for his defense.
Information from: Newsday, http://www.newsday.com
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