A 2 1/2 -year rockfish "sting" ended yesterday when a federal grand jury indicted two men on charges of illegally catching rockfish in Maryland and Virginia.
Police set up a phony wholesale seafood business to trap the suspects -- and the contraband they seized didn't go to waste. Two tons of illegal fish wound up feeding the hungry in Baltimore-area churches and soup kitchens.
"We gave it all away in a single day. Everybody loved it," said Sherman Williams, receptionist at St. Francis Xavier Roman Catholic Church in East Baltimore, which got several hundred pounds of fish June 5. "This week, they've been asking us when we'll be getting more."
The grand jury indicted Jerry Lawrence Elliott of Montross, Va., and Edmond Pruitt of Indian Head on charges of conspiring to sell to wholesalers rockfish illegally caught out of season, without documentation and in excess of legal limits.
Federal authorities planned to summons the men to appear at an arraignment on a date still to be set.
The indictment charges that the men violated Maryland and Virginia laws by illegally catching the rockfish -- also known as striped bass -- in the Chesapeake Bay and the Potomac River since last October.
During a 2 1/2 -year period, according to the indictment, the men made seven deliveries of rockfish, a total of more than 6,000 pounds, to the bogus seafood business operated by Maryland Natural Resources Police -- a tactic that has resulted in similar charges lodged by the state against other fishermen previously.
According to the indictment, the police set up the Southern Maryland Seafood Co. in St. Mary's County to buy illegally caught fish, shellfish and game.
The case was also investigated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Virginia Marine Resource Commission.
Frank T. Kuncir, special agent for the Fish and Wildlife Service, said the investigation on the illegal catches resulted from citizens' tips.
The authorities were expecting a large final shipment June 5, and had prepared ahead of time to donate what turned out to be more than 4,000 pounds of fish to the needy.