Rockfish Wholesalers' Convictions Affirmed

US v. Oceanpro Industries:  In this appeal, a D.C. seafood wholesaling operation, its vice president, and an employee challenged their convictions for purchasing untagged and oversized striped bass (known colloquially as "rockfish") in violation of the Lacey Act (prohibiting the purchase in interstate commerce of fish or wildlife sold in violation of state law), and also for lying to federal agents investigating the crimes.  The appellants disputed the District of Maryland's venue for the false statement offense, because the statements were uttered in D.C., not Maryland.  Secondly, the appellants argued that the $300,000 order of restitution (well below the market value for the fish allegedly caught and sold illegally) was improper because the States were not "victims," as they lacked a sufficient interest in the illegally caught fish.  The Fourth Circuit affirmed the convictions.

The statute governing the false statement, 18 U.S.C. sect. 1001, does not contain an express venue provision; in this event, the Supreme Court has instructed that the place of the crime, its locus delicti, controls venue, and the place is "determined from the nature of the crime alleged and the location of the act or acts constituting it."  The Fourth Circuit has held that the "circumstance" elements of an offense, even if essential, are without moment to a venue determination.  The mens rea element of the false statement offense is such a circumstance element, and the essential conduct prohibited by the statute is "making any materially false statement."  The Fourth Circuit concluded that the District of Maryland had a substantial connection to the employee's criminal conduct and to the charges based on that conduct against him and Oceanpro. 

The Fourth Circuit held the restitution order, $300,000 to the states of Maryland and Virginia as compensation for the rockfish that had been illegally harvested from the Potomac River and sold to Oceanpro, was proper because the states had a proprietary interest in the illegally harvested fish after they were caught, so they were entitled to restitution under the Mandatory Victims' Restitution Act ("MVRA").  The Fourth Circuit relied on a Second Circuit case, United States v. Bengis, for its reasoning, a case involving illegally harvested South African lobsters, where restitution was mandated under the MVRA because the lobsters were forfeited to the state.