FORT MYERS — A federal jury found John L. Yates, 59, of Holmes Beach, guilty of disposing of evidence to prevent seizure, and destroying evidence to impede or obstruct a federal investigation regarding possession of under-sized red grouper, federal officials announced Tuesday.
Yates was found guilty Aug. 5 and faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in federal prison, U.S. Attorney Robert E. O’Neill and Tracy Dunn, acting special agent in charge, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Office of Law Enforcement, said in a press release.
His sentencing hearing is scheduled for Nov. 14.
Yates was indicted on May 5, 2010, after deputized officers of NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service boarded the fishing vessel Miss Katie in federal waters in the Gulf of Mexico and discovered 72 undersized red grouper.
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The officers instructed Yates, the captain, to leave the fish onboard the Miss Katie and report back to Cortez, so agents of the National Marine Fisheries Service could seize the fish, according to testimony and evidence presented at trial.
Instead of reporting as instructed, Yates caused his crew to throw the fish overboard, the federal press release said.
“Protecting our environment and natural resources should be of prime concern to all Americans,” stated O’Neill. “Our office will continue to make the enforcement of environmental laws a priority.”
NOAA Enforcement takes acts of destroying evidence to impede an investigation very seriously and will take appropriate measures to bring violators before the criminal courts, said Dunn.
The case was investigated by NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service, the United States Coast Guard and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. It is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Jeffrey F. Michelland and Tama Koss Caldarone.
— Herald staff report