A Tilghman Island fisherman was sentenced to a year and a day in prison, followed by six months of home detention and hefty fines for illegally harvesting and selling tens of thousand of pounds of striped bass from the Chesapeake Bay.
U.S. District Judge Richard D. Bennett ordered William J. Lednum, 41, to pay a $40,000 fine as well as $498,293 in restitution to the State of Maryland, according to a statement from the U.S. Department of Justice. The restitution will be jointly paid by co-defendant Michael D. Hayden. His penalties are a result of violating the Lacey Act, a federal law that protects fish and wildlife, the statement said.
Lednum pleaded guilty to the four-year illegal harvest scheme with Hayden, 43, also of Tilghman Island, in August. The two admitted to running a poaching operation between 2007 and 2011 that involved taking the Bay's striped bass on their boats "Integrity" and "Kristin Marie" beyond legal fishing limits, in oversized nets, at illegal times, and covering everything up with falsified records, according to the statement. They poached at least 185,925 pounds of striped bass that they sold to wholesale operations in New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland for nearly half a million dollars, the Department of Justice said.
The scheme fell apart in February 2011 when the Maryland Department of Natural Resources found tens of thousands of pounds of striped bass in illegal anchored nets before the season had opened.
The ensuing investigation also implicated "helpers" Kent Conley Sadler, 31, of Tilghman Island, and Lawrence Daniel Murphy, 37, of St. Michaels. The helpers, along with Hayden, have also pleaded guilty and are scheduled to be sentenced within the next three months, the statement said.
During sentencing Wednesday, several character witnesses for Lednum asked for leniency, citing his remorse, low wages as a waterman, 25 years of volunteer work with the Tilghman Volunteer Fire Dept., and, recently, with the Maryland Dept. of Natural Resources.
Lednum told the court, "I've ruined my respect and reputation, and I'm trying to gain it back."
But Judge Bennett said Lednum "blatantly violated" the law over four years and if others are to be deterred from similar environmental crimes, a prison term must be imposed.