WALDOBORO, Maine — A Waldoboro man who previously pleaded guilty to trafficking in poached juvenile American eels, or elvers, in New York has now pleaded guilty in federal court to the same crime in Virginia.
Richard Austin will be sentenced July 19 in federal court in Norfolk, Virginia.
Austin pleaded guilty on April 14 to trafficking in elvers in violation of the federal Lacey Act, according to a release from the U.S. Department of Justice, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Dana J. Boente, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia.
As part of a plea agreement, Austin admitted to traveling to Massachusetts and to Yorktown, Williamsburg and Newport News, Virginia, to illegally harvest the elvers, then selling them to dealers from Illinois and New York. The dealers then exported them to Asia.
Austin trafficked approximately $189,374 worth of illegal elvers between 2013 and 2015, according to the release.
This plea was the result of Operation Broken Glass, a multiple-jurisdiction U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service investigation into the illegal trafficking of American eels, according to the release. To date, the investigation has resulted in guilty pleas for 12 individuals whose combined conduct resulted in the illegal trafficking of more than $2.94 million worth of elvers.
The offense is a felony under the Lacey Act and carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison, a fine of up to $250,000 and three years of supervised release.
In March 2015, Austin was arrested with a Brooklyn, New York, man and charged with illegally trafficking in elvers. Austin pleaded guilty and was ordered to forfeit $15,000 to the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, according to a release at the time.