A Cape Coral man has pleaded guilty to mail fraud in connection to an illegal fishing scheme.
United States Attorney Maria Chapa Lopez says, Mark E. Zywotko, 47, of Cape Coral, has pleaded guilty to four counts of mail fraud. Zywotko faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in federal prison for each count. A sentencing date has not yet been set.
According to the plea agreement, from January 2013 through December 2017, Zywotko perpetrated a scheme to overharvest more than 50,000 pounds of Gulf reef fish from the waters off Southwest Florida. These illegally-caught fish were worth more than $286,000. Zywotko knowingly and illegally harvested, landed, and sold federally-regulated Gulf reef fish, including red grouper and red snapper, and submitted false documents, via the U.S. Mail, to state and federal agencies in order to conceal his overfishing.
Regulation of the Gulf reef fish fishery is a lawful function of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), National Marine Fisheries Service (“NMFS”). NMFS is tasked with managing the fishery to ensure its sustainability and economic viability in the Gulf of Mexico across the southeastern United States.
NOAA’s mission is to understand and predict changes in the Earth’s environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and to conserve and manage our coastal and marine resources.
“The Individual Fishing Quota program was designed to increase the marketability of our Gulf of Mexico snapper/grouper commercial fishery – an extremely vital fishing resource in the southeast U.S.,” said Manny Antonaras, Deputy Special Agent in Charge for NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement, Southeast Division. “We will not tolerate such violations to our nation’s economy nor our natural resources, and we commend the investigative team who spent hundreds of hours on this case.”
This case was investigated by NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement, Southeast Division and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. It is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Jeffrey F. Michelland.