The owners of Cowart Seafood in Bay St. Louis have been indicted on charges involving the illegal sale of red drum and spotted sea trout to Louisiana businesses in 2014 and 2015.
Lonnie M. Ray and Shelley H. Ray face the charges in U.S. District Court in Gulfport.
An indictment unsealed Thursday shows both face a charge of conspiracy to violate the Lacey Act, which makes it illegal to sell fish taken in violation of state laws and to cross state lines with those fish.
Both face two counts each of Lacey Act violations.
Lonnie Ray also faces a charge alleging he illegally possessed a short-barrel shotgun on June 17, 2015. That’s when he allegedly was found cultivating marijuana, and was jailed on two drug distribution charges.
The indictment alleges they illegally sold seafood to businesses in Louisiana, failed to notify the state Department of Marine Resources of purchases from commercial fishermen, illegally bought seafood from recreational fishermen and kept two sets of books.
One set of books showed seafood sales, as shown on “trip tickets” given to DMR, and the other set showed the amount of their actual sales, the indictment said.
They are accused of selling red drum, also known as redfish, to Kenney Seafood Inc. of Slidell on March 20, 2015, and selling red drum and spotted sea trout to the New Orleans Fish House in New Orleans on May 12, 2015.
The Rays each pleaded not guilty Thursday and were released on bond.
Their trial is set on a court calendar that starts March 6.
The charges against both are punishable by up to 15 years in prison. The firearm charge carries up to 10 years.
The case represents combined investigative work on the part of several agencies, U.S. Attorney Gregory Davis and NOAA Acting Assistant Director Manny Antonarus said in a news release.
Federal fish and wildlife agents and firearm agents also assisted.