Maine’s “elver kingpin” receives prison time for trafficking ring

Published on
May 7, 2018

A Maine fisherman who was once referred to as the “grandfather of eel fishing” and “Maine’s elver kingpin,” received prison time as part of juvenile eel, or elvers, trafficking ring valued at USD 5 million (EUR 4.2 million).

William Sheldon, 71, was sentenced to six months of prison and three years of supervised release in U.S. District Court in Portland, Maine. Sheldon was also ordered to pay a fine of USD 10,000 (EUR 8,364), forfeit USD 33,200 (EUR 27,800) in lieu of a truck he used during the crime, and was ordered not to possess a license to purchase or export elvers.

Accomplice Timothy Lewis also received a sentence of six months in prison followed by three years supervised release, and was ordered to pay a USD 2,500 (EUR 2,091) fine. Lewis was also banned from obtaining an elvers license in the future. In addition, another accomplice, Thomas Reno, was sentenced to one year of probation.

The sentences “establish that the United States will not tolerate interstate and international transactions involving illegally taken wildlife,” said United States Acting Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey H. Wood in a press release. “Despite their best efforts to evade law enforcement, these defendants were ultimately brought to justice, and we are very proud to have worked with our partners at the federal, state, and local level to achieve this result.”   

The three were part of a major elver trafficking ring of 21 fishermen who made millions of dollars by selling elvers to Asia on the black market. They were ensnared by a federal operation which the United States Fish and Wildlife Service dubbed “Operation Broken Glass."

Eighteen of the fishermen pleaded guilty to poaching in South Carolina, Virginia, and Maine last year.

While most of the poachers in the ring did not receive prison time, two of the scheme’s leaders received jail sentences last year.

Tommy Zhou, operator of Wilson Group Sea Trading LLC in New York, New York, was sentenced to more than a year in prison for illegally trafficking more than USD 150,000 (EUR 125,000) worth of the baby eels.

Zhou told undercover officers he was willing to spend USD 200,000 (EUR 167,000) to kill anyone who took part in the black market eel scheme if they betrayed him, The Virginian-Pilot reported.

In addition, Richard D. Austin, a licensed clam digger in Waldoboro, Maine, received a sentence of two years in prison for illegally harvesting around USD 190,000 (EUR 159,000) worth of elvers and selling them to dealers in Illinois and New York.

Contributing Editor

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