School Board Member Caught in Fish Investigation - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

School Board Member Caught in Fish Investigation

School Board Member Caught in Fish Investigation

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THOMASVILLE, GA (WALB) -

A Grady County School Board member along with three others is the target of a federal indictment involving the illegal buying of fish from Florida.

Board Member James Puckett, who is also the Vice President of Harper's Seafood in Thomasville, is charged in a 58 count federal case.

The company president Junior Wayne Harper along with two fishermen; Ronnie Burdette of Moultrie and Charles Logue of East Point Florida, all face charges.

The indictment alleges the Seafood Business bought fish caught illegally in Florida.

Each charge carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a 250 thousand dollar fine.

Below is the Release issued by the U-S Attorney's office.

Michael J. Moore, United States Attorney for the Middle District of Georgia, announces the return of a fifty-eight count federal indictment against Junior Wayne Harper, age 59, of Thomasville, GA, Byron James Puckett, age 41, of Cairo, GA, Charles Stacy Logue, age 39, of East Point, FL, and Ronnie Irvin Burdette, age 46, of Moultrie, GA. 

The indictment alleges that Harper, the owner and Chief Executive Officer of Harper's Seafood, Inc., a retail and wholesale seafood business located in Thomasville, GA, and Puckett, the company's Vice President, conspired to purchase in interstate commerce fish which they knew had been taken and sold in violation of Florida laws and regulations, in violation of Title 16, United States Code, Sections 3372(a)(2)(A) and 3373(d)(1)(B) (the Lacey Act).

Harper and Puckett are alleged to have purchased the fish from different unlicensed fishermen, including Logue and Burdette. 

The indictment alleges 52 separate felony violations of the Lacey Act based upon the illegal transactions.  Harper is a named defendant in 52 counts; Burdette is charged in 30 counts; Logue is charged in 22 counts; and Puckett is charged in 19 counts.

In addition, Harper and Puckett are charged with other felony violations of the Lacey Act for making and submitting to the State of Florida false Florida Marine Fisheries Trip Tickets. 

The indictment alleges that in order to conceal some illegal purchases of fish, Harper and Puckett falsified the trip tickets by identifying an illegally purchased species of fish as a different species.

Each count of the indictment carries a maximum possible sentence of five years imprisonment, a $250,000 fine, or both, a period of supervised release of up to three years, and a $100 mandatory assessment.

Harper, Logue and Burdette entered not guilty pleas to the charges upon making their initial appearances in federal court yesterday before United States Magistrate Judge Thomas Q. Langstaff in Albany, GA. 

Puckett is scheduled to appear in court on July 7, at which time he also is expected to enter a not guilty plea.

 Criminal indictments are only charges and not evidence of guilt. 

A defendant is presumed to be innocent until and unless proven guilty.

The case was investigated by agents with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission(FWC), and is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney K. Alan Dasher.