Three Lower Keys brothers accused of harvesting lobster from illegal artificial habitats known as casitas will likely serve six months in federal prison, and lose their crawfish licenses for life, after all three pleaded guilty in court Monday. Charles, Ryan and Tyson Veach each pleaded guilty to violating the Lacey Act, which makes it a federal offense to import, export, transport, sell or purchase in interstate commerce any wildlife protected at the state level.
They pleaded guilty as part of a plea agreement with the government that calls for them to serve six months in prison followed by one year of supervised release, as well as each pay a fine of $25,000. They also must forfeit a 2008 32-foot Invincible center console boat named the Super Grouper, including all fishing gear, engines and tackle.
Charles and Ryan Veach agreed to surrender their commercial lobster and dive endorsement licenses, and Tyson Veach must give up his commercial lobster endorsement, according to the plea agreement. Those revocations are for life. They will be able to keep other finfish permits “not involved in criminal conduct,” records state.
The agreement also calls for the men to remove the casitas they dove on for lobster by the time of their sentencing, at their expense and under the supervision of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary officials. They were also ordered to turn over all their GPS units, charts or any other navigational tools that show or map where the illegal casitas were located, records state.
Senior Judge James Lawrence King will sentence each man on May 5. On Monday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Lurana S. Snow accepted their pleas and the agreement, but King can still change or revoke the agreement upon sentencing. Such a move has been historically rare in previous casita-related cases.
The maximum penalties are up to one year in prison and fines up to $100,000 sans the plea agreement. One curious absence in court proceedings Monday was any discussion of Dennis Dallmeyer’s disappearance. Dallmeyer, a commercial fish dealer also snared in the Veach case, went missing on Jan. 6 after being reported overdue at Murray Marine while on a short fishing trip. His boat was later found off Elliott Key. Dallmeyer pleaded guilty in December, also as part of a plea agreement that called for him to testify in the Veach case should it go to trial.
Coast Guard search-and-rescue crews suspended their search for Dallmeyer, but the case remains open with the Coast Guard Investigative Service. Dallmeyer had been scheduled to be sentenced today before King. On Jan. 9, the judge issued an order delaying Dallmeyer’s sentencing to May 5. The prosecutor in the case, Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Watts-Fitzgerald, declined to comment on the search for Dallmeyer.
Watts-Fitzgerald has prosecuted every casita case in the Keys since the government began cracking down on their use, led by undercover federal wildlife law enforcement officers. The Veach brothers are the latest defendants in a string of cases filed in the last six years by the U.S. Attorney’s Office against Florida Keys commercial and charter fishermen.