December 09, 2019
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Maine man pleads guilty to illegal trafficking in baby eels valued at $375K

Ashley L. Conti | BDN
Ashley L. Conti | BDN
Elvers sit in a net in Card Mill Stream in Franklin in a 2015 photo.

WOOLWICH, Maine — A 38-year-old Woolwich man pleaded guilty on Friday to illegally trafficking in poached elvers — juvenile American eels — in 2012.

Michael Squillace pleaded guilty to violating the federal Lacey Act, which prohibits interstate transport or transactions of any species of fish or wildlife illegally harvested or handled in any state. He was released on personal recognizance, according to court documents. A sentencing date was not available on Monday. He faces up to five years in prison with a maximum of 3 years supervised release.

Prosecutors from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division and Environmental Crimes Section said Squillace illegally sold 183 pounds of elvers, valued at about $375,000, to an unnamed Maine elver dealer.

Since 2011, elvers on average have fetched around $1,500 per pound for fishermen, and netted more than $4 million total for the 12 convicted poachers who have pleaded guilty to federal charges in South Carolina, Virginia and Maine.

Squillace is the sixth midcoast Maine man to be charged with selling poached elvers in recent years, most as part of a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service investigation dubbed “Operation Broken Glass,” which has spanned across 11 states on the East Coast. Eleven people so far have pleaded guilty to federal charges filed in Maine, South Carolina and Virginia, and have admitted to trafficking in more than $2.75 million worth of illegally harvested elvers, according to federal prosecutors.

In March, William Sheldon, 71, of Woolwich, a longtime commercial elver dealer operating as Kennebec Glass Eels pleaded not guilty to trafficking in elvers between 2011 and 2014.

Another man, 46-year-old Timothy Lewis of Phippsburg, also pleaded not guilty to conspiracy and violating the federal Lacey Act.

Their trials were initially expected in May of this year, but on June 2 both were postponed until at least Sept. 5, according to court documents.

Last October, seven men including four from Maine waived indictment and pleaded guilty in federal court in Portland to illegally harvesting $1.9 million worth of elvers in Virginia, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Rhode Island in 2013 and 2014.

Yarann Im, 34, of Portland, who was an elver dealer, admitted to illegally catching, purchasing and selling about 480 pounds of elvers valued at more that $540,000 in 2013 and 2014.

John Pinkham, 49, of Bath; Mark Green, 50, and Thomas Reno, 43, both of West Bath; Michael Bryant, 39, of West Yarmouth, Massachusetts; and George Anestis, 44, of Boxborough, Massachusetts, pleaded guilty to one count each of trafficking elvers they knew had been caught illegally. Thomas Choi, 75, of Henderson, Maryland, pleaded guilty to exporting elvers that had been harvested illegally.

In May, Bryant was sentenced to three years of probation for poaching more than $330,000 worth of elvers.

BDN reporter Bill Trotter contributed to this report.



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