Pirate Poacher Update: Tilghman Island Waterman William J. Lednum Sent to Prison in Massive Rockfish Heist

Maryland NRP officers sort through illegally caught rockfish

Maryland NRP officers sort through illegally caught rockfish

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Tilghman Island Outlaw Waterman Sentenced to Prison for Illegal Fish Harvesting in the Chesapeake Bay

William J. Lednum, 41, of Tilghman Island, Maryland, was sentenced Dec. 17, 2014 in federal court in Baltimore to a year and day in prison, respectively followed by six months of home detention as part of three years of supervised release, for conspiring to violate the Lacey Act and to defraud the United States through their illegal harvesting and sale of 185,925 pounds of striped bass. Lednum was also ordered to pay $498,293.40 in restitution to the State of Maryland for the damage caused to the Striped Bass fishery.  In addition, Judge Bennett ordered Lednum to pay a fine of $40,000.

According to their plea agreements, Lednum and his co-defendant, Michael D. Hayden, were “captains” on fishing vessels owned by them, William J. Lednum Fisheries, d/b/a, Michael D. Hayden, Jr., and Michael D. Hayden, Jr., Inc.  The defendants also employed numerous “helpers” as part of this scheme, including, co-defendants Kent Sadler and Lawrence Daniel Murphy.

From at least 2007 to 2011, Hayden and Lednum engaged in a scheme to illegally poach tens of thousands of pounds of striped bass from the Chesapeake Bay in violation of Maryland regulations relating to harvest method, amounts, tagging, and reporting. In an effort to conceal their crimes, Hayden and Lednum falsified paperwork related to their harvests and submitted those falsified documents to the state of Maryland.  The state of Maryland in turn submits such paperwork to numerous Federal and interstate agencies responsible for setting harvest levels all along the eastern seaboard.  Hayden and Lednum shipped and sold the striped bass to wholesalers in New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland, receiving a total of $498,293.47 for the poached fish.

The investigation in this case started in February 2011 when the Maryland Department of Natural Resources found tens of thousands of pounds of striped bass snagged in illegal, anchored nets before the season officially reopened.  The conspirators were seen on the water in the vicinity of the illegal nets. The subsequent investigation unveiled a wider criminal enterprise for which Hayden and Lednum were sentenced today.

Co-defendants Michael D. Hayden, 43, of Tilghman Island, Lawrence “Daniel” Murphy, 37, of St. Michaels, Maryland, and Kent Conley Sadler, 31, of Tilghman Island, previously pleaded guilty to their participation in the conspiracy. Murphy is scheduled to be sentenced on December 19, 2014, Sadler is scheduled to be sentenced on January 7, 2015 and Hayden is scheduled to be sentenced on Feb. 27, 2015.

The investigation into this case was conducted by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.   The prosecution was handled by Todd W. Gleason and Shennie Patel of the Department of Justice’s Environmental Crimes Section, and Assistant U.S. Attorney P. Michael Cunningham.

Professional Poachers Plundered Tons of Striped Bass

Long records of poaching and rule violations showed Maryland officials talk tough and come down hard with a powder puff

TILGHMAN ISLAND, MD. — Michael D. Hayden, 41, and William J. Lednum, 42, both of Tilghman Island, Maryland, pleaded guilty Aug. 1, 2014 to conspiring to violate the Lacey Act and to defraud the United States through their illegal harvesting and sale of striped bass.

The plea was announced by Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division Sam Hirsch, U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein; Superintendent of the Maryland Natural Resources Police Colonel George F. Johnson IV and Regional Special Agent in Charge for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Honora Gordon.

“These defendants admitted to systematically plundering the Chesapeake Bay of an important and protected natural resource, and at the expense of the many honest fishermen who play by the rules,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Hirsch. “The Justice Department is committed to enforcing environmental laws that protect our shared natural resources and sustain the vital marine life of the Chesapeake Bay for future generations.” According to their plea agreements, Hayden and Lednum were “captains” on fishing vessels owned by them, William J. Lednum Fisheries d/b/a Michael D. Hayden Jr. and Michael D. Hayden, Jr., Inc.

The defendants also employed numerous “helpers” as part of this scheme, including co-defendant Kent Sadler. From at least 2007 to 2011, Hayden and Lednum illegally harvested, possessed, falsely labeled and/or sold at least 185,925 pounds of striped bass.

They used illegally weighted and/or anchored gill nets, left the nets in the water overnight, and set the nets during times when the commercial striped bass gill-netting season was closed.  The defendants exceeded their maximum daily vessel limit of striped bass and either unloaded the surplus onto an anchored vessel or paid others a fee to check-in fish for them.

Hayden and Lednum falsified the permit allocation cards and daily catch records for their striped bass fishing trips to over-report the numbers of striped bass caught and under-report the weights.

This allowed them to request additional state tags under false pretenses and therefore harvest additional striped bass illegally. Hayden and Lednum shipped and sold $498,293 worth of striped bass to wholesalers in New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland.

None of the fish was properly reported at check-in stations or on the permit allocation cards of daily catch records submitted to the state of Maryland.

Maryland in turn submits such paperwork to numerous federal and interstate agencies responsible for setting harvest levels all along the eastern seaboard.

The investigation in this case started in February 2011 when the Maryland Department of Natural Resources found tens of thousands of pounds of striped bass snagged in illegal, anchored nets before the season officially reopened.

The conspirators were seen on the water in the vicinity of the illegal nets. The subsequent investigation unveiled a wider criminal enterprise to which Hayden and Lednum pleaded guilty on Aug. 1, 2014.  Co-defendant Kent Conley Sadler, 31, also of Tilghman Island, previously pleaded guilty to his participation in the conspiracy and is scheduled to be sentenced on Oct. 21, 2014. Hayden and Lednum face a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

The defendants have agreed to pay restitution to the state of Maryland of between $498,293 and $929,625.  The defendants have further agreed to forfeit the monetary equivalent of 80 percent of the value of the vessel primarily used during the conspiracy.

U.S. District Judge Richard D. Bennett scheduled sentencing for Hayden and Lednum on Nov. 4 and Nov. 5, 2014 respectively.

This case was investigated by investigators from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and special agents with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.   The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Cunningham, of the District of Maryland, and Todd W. Gleason and Shennie Patel of the Environmental Crimes Section of the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Hayden and Lednum took some special steps to try to avert this day of reckoning

Baltimore, Maryland (September 18 , 2013) – Michael D. Hayden, Jr., age 41, of Tilghman Island, Maryland, was arrested yesterday on charges of witness tampering and retaliation in connection with an investigation of felony Lacey Act violations related to the illegal harvesting of striped bass from the Chesapeake Bay.

The charges were announced by United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein; Robert G. Dreher, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division; Regional Special Agent in Charge Honora Gordon of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Office of Law Enforcement; and Joseph P. Gill, Secretary of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

“Stealing striped bass and intimidating witnesses are crimes against our natural resources and against the citizens of Maryland,” said Department of Natural Resources Secretary Joseph P. Gill. “We are grateful for the partnership of law enforcement agencies and we thank our residents for coming forward and providing information to help us protect the public trust.”

According to the affidavit filed in support of the criminal complaint, Hayden is a commercial fisherman, licensed in the state of Maryland and operates commercial fishing vessels on the Chesapeake Bay. During an investigation of the illegal harvesting of striped bass from the Chesapeake Bay, agents of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Office of Law Enforcement, and the Maryland Natural Resources Police learned that Hayden allegedly attempted to manipulate some witnesses’ testimony while trying to prevent the testimony of others. The criminal complaint alleges that in at least one incident, Hayden threatened to retaliate against a potential witness he believed to be cooperating with investigators.

If convicted, Hayden faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison on each of four counts of witness tampering and witness retaliation. Hayden is scheduled to have an initial appearance in U.S. District Court in Baltimore today at 3:00 p.m.

A review of Court Records of Maryland for William J. Lednum of Tilghman Island, Md. shows the following:

A criminal charge of battery and malicious destruction missiles at vehicle on May 8, 1995 resulted in a plea agreement with Talbot County States Attorney Scott Patterson, with the charges placed on the stet docket in District Court in Talbot County, Md. No fines or jail time resulted and Harry M. Walsh was listed as the attorney for Lednum.

  • Cited by NRP Officer Kenneth W. Avery Jr. for possession of undersize oysters on Oct. 27, 1997. Found guilty in Anne Arundel District Court on Nov. 13, 1997 and fined $70 and $20 in court costs.
  • Cited by NRP Officer Michael Moore for possession of undersize oysters on Oct. 22, 1998 and entered a guilty plea in Talbot County District Court on Jan. 22, 1999; fined $100.
  • Cited by NRP Cpl. D. Thompson on Jan. 12, 1992 for possession of undersize oysters. At trial on March 17, 1992 Lednum was found guilty and fined $70 plus $20 in court costs.
  • Cited by NRP Officer Christopher Byrd on Nov. 1, 1996 for possession of undersize oysters. Found guilty at trial in Talbot County District Court on Jan. 15, 1997 and fined $65 with $25 in court costs.
  • Cited by NRP Officer Kenneth W. Avery Jr. for setting crabbing gear during a restricted time on July 21, 2001. Found guilty at trial in Anne Arundel County District Court on July 27, 2001. He was fined $100 with $20 in court costs.
  • Cited by NRP Officer H. Brohawn for possession of undersize crabs on Aug. 18, 2003. William James Lednum was found guilty at trial in Talbot County District Court on Sept. 25, 2003 and fined $100 with another $20 in court costs.
  • Cited by NRP Officer Rafter on Aug. 12, 2010 for catching crabs before legal time. Lednum was found guilty in Talbot County District Court on Sept. 16, 2010 and fined $102.50 and assessed $22.50 in court costs.
  • Charged by NRP Officer Brohawn with charges of assault, hindering, obstruction and reckless endangerment on Sept. 23, 2003. Lednum was represented by attorney Jim Baldwin of Centreville, Md. at trial in Talbot County District Court on Nov. 12, 2003 and found not guilty on all charges.
  • Cited by NRP Officer Certeza on Jan. 1, 2008 with improper use of a gill net while fishing. He entered a plea of not guilty in Anne Arundel County District Court and on March 24, 2008, was put on probation before judgment with a fine of $102.50 and court costs of $22.50. Lednum was represented by attorney Jim Baldwin.
  • A charge in Anne Arundel County on July 5, 2000 of malicious destruction of property resulted in the States Attorney dropping the charge on Nov. 29, 2000.
  • Cited for possession of undersize rockfish on Feb. 27, 2013 by NRP Officer J. Yommer. In Talbot County District Court Lednum enter a not guilty plea and was found not guilty on April 18, 2013.

A review of Maryland Court records for arrests, convictions and citations of Michael David Hayden Jr., of Tilghman Island, Md., reflects the following:

  • Cited by NRP Officer Jeffrey Howard on August 15, 2003 for possession of undersized hard crabs, Hayden was found guilty on Sept. 9, 2003 and was not fined by the District Court Judge for Dorchester County. NRP Officer Thomas Shores Jr. cited Hayden on Aug. 15, 2003 for fishing crab pots in a restricted area and on Nov. 17, 2003 in Dorchester County District Court he was found guilty and fined $280.
  • Cited for undersize possession of oysters on Oct. 24, 2001 by NRP Officer Randy R. Charron. Hayden was found guilty at trial in Anne Arundel County District Court on Dec. 11, 2001 and fined $130 plus $20 in court costs.
  • A charge brought by Walter Stansbury of Tilghman Island against Hayden for malicious destruction of property and 100 ft. of trotline violation was prosecuted by Talbot County States Attorney Scott Patterson on Nov. 9, 1994. Hayden entered a guilty plea and was given unsupervised probation before judgment with probation for one year and no fine but assessed $20 in court costs. Restitution was ordered in the amount of $75.
  • Cited by NRP Officer R. Bowman for illegal possession of striped bass and failure to comply with a Police Officer on March 8, 1999 and found guilty at trial on June 9, 1999 in Dorchester County District Court. Hayden was fined $480 and $20 in court costs. He was represented by attorney Willard C. Parker.
  • Cited by NRP Officer Tracy Campbell for taking oysters from a restricted area on Dec. 6, 2005, Hayden was found not guilty at trial in Talbot District Court on March 30, 2006. Hayden was represented by attorney Robert Aguilar.
  • Cited on May 18, 1995 by NRP Officer Mark Gadow with possession of undersized hard crabs. On June 30, 1995 Hayden pleaded guilty and was given a probation before judgment by the District Court Judge in Talbot County, Md. He was fined $200 and court costs of $20.
  • Cited by NRP Officer Bruce Peris on Feb. 11, 1997 for 17 counts of setting a gill net prior to 3 am, failing to retrieve net daily, setting a gill net on a Saturday or Sunday, caught striped bass on Saturday or Sunday, failing to properly mark gill net, failing to attend to a gill net, net exceeded twenty pound limit on end. In Talbot County District Court, on June 3, 1997, a plea deal with Talbot County States Attorney Scott Patterson was struck. Patterson dropped 13 of the charges and on two of the charges Hayden was found guilty and fined $200 on each charge. A third charge netted Hayden a $100 fine. Hayden was represented by attorney Willard C. Parker.
  • Cited on Oct. 1, 1997 by NRP Officer John Buchanan for possession of undersized oysters. On Nov. 13, 1997, Hayden pleaded guilty and was fined $70 in Talbot County District Court.
  • Cited on Nov. 19, 2001 by NRP Officer Donelie Preston with possession of unculled and undersized oysters. Hayden entered a guilty plea in Kent County District Court on Jan. 17, 2002 and was fined $250.
  • Charged with criminal assault on Jan. 20, 1992, Hayden appeared in District Court in Talbot County and was found guilty on April 8, 1992. Hayden was sentenced to 180 days in jail and the Judge allowed Hayden to have 120 days suspended.
The Chesapeake Legends Yarns and Barnacles. Click to hear free 5 min. sample

The Chesapeake Legends Yarns and Barnacles. Click to hear free 5 min. sample

 

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