UPDATE: Bay seafood distributors charged for 'fishy' sales
By Dwayne Bremer
Jan 20, 2017, 16:21
A federal grand jury has indicted the owners of a local seafood distribution company on charges involving the illegal sale of red drum and spotted sea trout to Louisiana businesses in 2014 and 2015.
Lonnie M. Ray and Shelley H. Ray face the charges in U.S. District Court in Gulfport.
The indictment, which was made public Thursday, shows both face charges of conspiracy to violate the Lacey Act, which makes it illegal to sell fish taken in violation of state laws and to cross state lines with those fish.
Both face two counts each of Lacey Act violations.
The Lacey Act regulates the import, export, selling and purchasing of fish, wildlife and plants.
Lonnie Ray also faces a charge alleging he illegally possessed a short-barrel shotgun on June 17, 2015.
In June 2015, local, state, and federal authorities executed a search warrant at Cowart's Seafood, which is located in Shoreline Park.
During the search, authorities found numerous fish, marijuana, and a dead alligator.
The Mississippi Department of Wildlife and Fisheries arrested Ray on several charges, including illegal possession of an alligator. Those charges are apparently pending, officials said.
Several federal agencies also began to investigate the case, including the Bureau of Alcohol.
The indictment alleges the couple illegally sold seafood to businesses in Louisiana, failed to notify the state Department of Marine Resources of purchases from commercial fishermen, illegally bought seafood from recreational fishermen and kept two sets of books.
One set of books showed seafood sales, as shown on “trip tickets” given to DMR, and the other set showed the amount of their actual sales, the indictment said.
They are accused of selling red drum, also known as redfish, to Kenney Seafood Inc. of Slidell on March 20, 2015, and selling red drum and spotted sea trout to the New Orleans Fish House in New Orleans on May 12, 2015. The Rays each pleaded not guilty Thursday and were released on bond.
Their trial is set on a court calendar that starts March 6. The charges against both are punishable by up to 15 years in prison. The firearm charge carries up to 10 years.