By Adam Linhardt
Three Lower Keys brothers accused of harvesting lobster from illegal artificial habitats are expected to plead guilty on Monday in federal court, according to court records.
Charles, Ryan and Tyson Veach face allegations of harvesting spiny lobsters from casitas, catching more than their daily commercial bag limit and falsifying commercial fishing reports to conceal their take.
All three were scheduled to be sentenced on May 5 in Key West before Senior Judge James Lawrence King.
The siblings each face a maximum of 10 years in prison, but such a sentence is unlikely as a lengthy trial was avoided and if previous, similar cases in the Florida Keys are any guide.
Each was indicted on charges of conspiracy and violating the Lacey Act, which makes it a federal offense to import, export, transport, sell or purchase in interstate commerce any wildlife protected at the state level.
The Lacey Act has been used in the past six years to prosecute numerous Keys defendants in illegal lobster casita, or artificial habitats, and other commercial fishing cases. It has been the primary tool used by federal prosecutors in curbing casita use in the Keys.
In December, Stock Island-based commercial fish dealer and co-defendant Dennis Dallmeyer of Big Coppitt Key pleaded guilty to conspiracy to violate the federal Lacey Act as part of an agreement with prosecutors, who dropped the other charges, records state.
Dallmeyer, who agreed to testify against the Veach brothers as part of his agreement, went missing on Jan. 6 after being overdue back at Murray Marine.
Coast Guard search-and-rescue crews suspended their search for Dallmeyer, but the case remains open with the Coast Guard Investigative Service.
Dallmeyer had been scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 27 before King. On Jan. 9, the judge issued an order delaying Dallmeyer's sentencing to May 5.
The prosecutor in the case, Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Watts-Fitzgerald, declined to comment on the search for Dallmeyer.