Florida Keys News
Wednesday, February 5, 2014
FWC: Fishermen illegally sold surplus catch

Details began to emerge Tuesday as to the scope of alleged illegal fish and lobster sales made by Lower Keys fishermen arrested Saturday following an undercover investigation.

Court and law enforcement documents state undercover Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) officers bought finfish and lobster tails from the men in incidents that occurred last year, beginning in July.

The FWC reports state the alleged sales were lobsters, but law enforcement records show that much of the alleged sales were of finfish.

Wickers
Pierce
Laney
Diaz

FWC officers allege that longtime Key West charter boat Capt. William Osgood Wickers, 41, of Big Coppitt Key, and one of his mates, Larry Alan Laney, 47, of Key West, sold fish, and facilitated other sales between another fisherman and undercover FWC operatives, according to arrest warrants and sworn affidavits.

One affidavit states that Laney and Wickers allegedly sold an undercover officer 77 pounds of mangrove snapper, 42 pounds of yellowtail snapper, 23 pounds of bar jacks, eight pounds of black grouper for $400. The sale occurred July 17 from the docks of Charterboat Row.

In another affidavit, Laney reportedly sold the FWC 16 pounds of yellowtail snapper, one 10-pound mutton snapper for $85 on Sept. 18, and included a Spanish mackeral for free.

Later, on Sept. 26, the same officer reportedly went back to the dock and bought 31 pounds of king mackeral, 26 pounds of yellowtail snapper, four pounds of strawberry grouper, and two porgy for $150, according to affidavits.

Laney allegedly told the undercover officer the fish were caught during charter trips aboard the Reel Time and Linda DV fishing boats.

Wickers was charged with 12 second-degree misdemeanor counts of sale of saltwater products without a saltwater products license, and 12 counts of not having a saltwater wholesale dealer's license, as well as one harvest of a dolphin under 20 inches.

The affidavits state the men were aware the undercover officer didn't have the FWC licenses required to purchase the fish.

On Dec. 29, Wickers reportedly called the officer to let him know his friend, Jesus Alberto Diaz, 42, of Big Coppitt Key, had fish to sell, according to another affidavit.

In that transaction, Diaz and Wickers allegedly sold the officer 87 pounds of mutton snapper, 80 pounds of king mackeral, three margates, and one amberjack for $460, records state.

Wickers was released Sunday from Monroe County Detention Center on Stock Island after posting $50,000 bail. Laney was charged with three counts of sale of saltwater products without a saltwater products license, and three counts of not having a saltwater wholesale dealers license. He was released from jail on Sunday after posting $22,000 bail.

Diaz was released Sunday after posting $4,000 bail.

The records reviewed by The Citizen didn't contain specific information about the arrest of a fourth fisherman, Derek Michael Pierce, 32, of Big Coppitt Key, who was charged with eight counts of sale of saltwater products without a saltwater products license, and eight counts of not having a saltwater wholesale dealer's license.

He was also released Sunday after posting $32,000 bail.

Wickers declined to comment when reached Tuesday.

Pierce told The Citizen he did have the proper licenses and that he is a commercial fisherman, but he declined to comment further. Diaz also said that he has the proper licenses, and also declined to comment further.

Laney could not be reached.

Second-degree misdemeanors are punishable by a maximum of 60 days and $500 fines, but FWC Capt. David Dipre said Monday that more charges could be pending as the investigation is not complete.

There is also a possibility the FWC Licensing and Permit office in Tallahassee could permanently terminate the men's commercial licenses, FWC Officer Bobby Dube said.

"It depends on the outcome of the court case, any prior violations and convictions and the number of illegal fish involved," Dube added.

Assistant State Attorney Colleen Dunne declined to comment citing the ongoing investigation.

alinhardt@keysnews.com

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