Crime

Bay fishmonger admits illegal sales of fish, firearm violation

The president of Cowart Seafood in Bay St. Louis has pleaded guilty to a charge involving the illegal sale of red drum such as these, also known as redfish, and a firearm violation.
The president of Cowart Seafood in Bay St. Louis has pleaded guilty to a charge involving the illegal sale of red drum such as these, also known as redfish, and a firearm violation. wmuller@sunherald.com

The president of Cowart Seafood Inc. in Bay St. Louis admitted he illegally sold redfish and spotted sea trout he’d bought from recreational fishermen and failing to report the purchases to the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources.

Lonnie M. Ray also admitted being in illegal possession of a sawed-off shotgun — a 12-gauge double-barrel shotgun with a barrel shorter than 18 inches.

Ray pleaded guilty Thursday in U.S. District Court.

He faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine for violating the Lacey Act, which makes it illegal to sell fish across state lines when the fish are taken in violation of state law.

He also faces maximum penalties of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for the firearm charge.

Judge Sul Ozerden set sentencing for July 25. Ray remains free on bond.

An indictment unsealed in January alleged Lonnie Ray and Shelley Ray conspired to keep two sets of books in 2014 and 2015, failing to report their actual sales. The charges against Shelley Ray have been dismissed.

The firearm charge involves a weapon found in Lonnie Ray’s possession June 17, 2015, when authorities arrested him on drug charges involving the cultivation of marijuana. The firearm was not registered to Ray.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, DMR and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives investigated the case, Acting U.S. Attorney Harold Brittain said.

Robin Fitzgerald: 228-896-2307, @robincrimenews

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