FWC cites former leader of large-scale Lower Keys lobster poaching ring

kwadlow@keynoter.comAugust 11, 2014 

A former Lower Keys commercial fisherman who served a federal prison sentence for running a massive lobster-poaching operation was ticketed by state marine officers Thursday.

David W. Dreifort, 47, now of Vero Beach, was issued a citation for possessing a commercial quantity of lobster without being able to produce a valid commercial license, a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission report says.

Dreifort was questioned by FWC officers in a 1 p.m. boating check near Sawyer Key, on the bayside of Cudjoe Key. A computer check showed the 20-foot Action Craft boat, registered to Dreifort, has been issued a valid saltwater products license.

The boat held more than 140 lobsters when checked, FWC Officers Andy Cox and John Martino reported. Dreifort was ticketed for not having the fishing license aboard while commercially harvesting lobster.

He also was cited for having license numbers, displayed on visible placards, that were smaller than state rules require. Officers issued warnings for improper dive-flag display and inadequate life-jacket markings.

Dreifort was sentenced to a two-and-a-half-year federal prison term in 2009 for leading a ring that illegally harvested thousands of lobster from manmade underwater habitats called casitas.

He also was banned from commercial fishing for five years, and forfeited several boats and vehicles so they could be sold to finance the removal of the casitas from the ocean bottom.

At the time, authorities described Operation Freezer Burn as the largest lobster-poaching operation ever uncovered. Five people, including Dreifort and wife Denise, pleaded guilty. Another defendant was convicted at trial.

$250,000 fine for illegally shipping Florida Keys lobster to China

A Boca Raton man was fined $250,000 Monday and put on federal probation for three years after pleading guilty to violating the federal Lacey Act for his part in shipping live Florida Keys lobster to China.

Eric Burman, 60, of Boca Raton was charged on July 1 in Key West with "transporting, selling, receiving, acquiring, and purchasing wildlife, that is Florida spiny lobster, with a fair market value in excess of $350, knowing that said wildlife was taken, possessed, transported, and sold in foreign commerce in violation of" state and federal law.

According to statements in court and the court pleadings, Burman was president and sole director of Eric Burman Sales in Pompano Beach.

Federal prosecutors say Burman admitted that in August and September 2010, he and a co-conspirator, who was not named, purchased spiny lobster from harvesters in Monroe County without creating and providing to the harvesters and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission trip tickets reflecting the transactions. The co-conspirator "caused" the lobster to be taken to Burman's Broward business for packing and shipping overseas.

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