The US Army Corps of Engineers is reviewing its lease of federal land to Joe’s Lobster Mart, Inc. on Canal Road in light of a guilty plea by its corporation president to the sale of stolen oysters.
Further, despite the admission of guilt on March 28 in Barnstable District Court by Joseph A. Vaudo, state environmental police Captain Patrick J. Moran said yesterday that the investigation continues into a larger case involving Mr. Vaudo and Michael E. Bryant, the West Yarmouth man who allegedly sold him the oysters.
Environmental police said that although the criminal case against Mr. Vaudo had concluded, the outcome of the case may affect his state-issued seafood dealer’s permit.
A spokesman for the state Division of Marine Fisheries said yesterday that the division was aware of the case, but that no regulatory decisions would be made until all the facts of the case were in.
As for the Army Corps, spokesman Timothy J. Dugan said, “We are reviewing the situation. I can’t speculate on any further action by the Army Corps of Engineers.”
Mr. Vaudo, 62, who lives on Route 6A, has operated Joe’s Lobster Mart for 41 years on the Sandwich bulkhead of the Cape Cod Canal.
He is chairman of the Sandwich Planning Board and is running for reelection to a three-year seat on the board in the May 8 town election.
On March 28, Mr. Vaudo pled guilty in Barnstable District Court to a fishery report violation and to receiving property in a false trade. He also admitted sufficient facts to misleading a police investigation.
Judge W. James O’Neill fined Mr. Vaudo a total of $6,250. He was placed on probation for a year, ordered to pay $600 in probation costs, and assessed $90 for the victim/witness fund.
This was not Mr. Vaudo’s first encounter with the law.
In January 1984, according to the federal Bureau of Prisons, Mr. Vaudo was convicted at US District Court in Boston of federal income tax evasion.
Judge A. David Mazzone sentenced Mr. Vaudo to three months in prison and fined him $15,000, according to the federal agency.
Mr. Vaudo was incarcerated at the prison in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, where he served two months of his sentence before his release in March 1984.
The following year, according to an affidavit filed by Mr. Vaudo in a 2005 civil lawsuit, he leased the present location of Joe’s from the Army Corps.
In 2005, according to the affidavit, Mr. Vaudo said Joe’s brought in annual revenue of between $3 and $4 million.
On the same day that Mr. Vaudo pled guilty in Barnstable District Court, Mr. Bryant, who allegedly sold him the stolen oysters, was charged with a six-count indictment by a Barnstable County grand jury.
The grand jury indicted Mr. Bryant on six counts of larceny of property, a shellfish sales violation, shellfishing in a contaminated area, and a commercial fishing license violation.
Michael A. Trudeau, first assistant district attorney for the Cape & Islands, said that the grand jury charged Mr. Bryant on February 7, but that the indictments were impounded until the resolution of the criminal case against Mr. Vaudo.
Mr. Bryant, who is not in custody, is scheduled for arraignment on April 15 in Barnstable Superior Court.
Mr. Trudeau said prosecutors believe that Mr. Bryant had sold Mr. Vaudo stolen shellfish for years.
Cape & Islands District Attorney Michael D. O’Keefe said the case against Mr. Bryant stems from a lengthy investigation that began last year when oyster propagators in Dennis and Barnstable reported the theft of thousands of oysters.
From June to mid-July, several oyster grant holders in the Crowes Pasture area of East Dennis reported the theft of oysters from their grants.
On July 29, the Town of Barnstable Natural Resource Division reported the theft of 3,000 oysters from its propagation beds in the Marstons Mills River.
Barnstable Police Detective Lieutenant Sean E. Balcom, who participated in the investigation of the case, estimated the overall worth of the stolen oysters from $30,000 to $40,000.
John Lowell, who has an oyster farm in East Dennis, and the Barnstable Association for Recreational Shellfishing each proceeded to offer a $1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the poacher or poachers.
Lt. Balcom said the rewards helped motivate an individual to provide information about the case that pointed at Mr. Bryant. Barnstable police detectives proceeded to place him under surveillance.
Last October 25, Barnstable police observed Mr. Bryant spend between two and three hours raking shellfish from Swan Pond, a contaminated body of water.
At 10 AM on October 26, Lt. Balcom arrived at Joe’s Lobster Mart. The detective observed Mr. Bryant’s vehicle pulling out from the right side of Joe’s.
According to the police, this is where the market’s loading bay is located. At the time, police said, workers were inside, including Mr. Vaudo.
Police said they knew that Mr. Bryant’s driving license was suspended. Barnstable police proceeded to stop Mr. Bryant’s vehicle on Route 6, and transported him to the Barnstable police headquarters.
At the same time as that stop, according to court documents, Lt. Balcom entered Joe’s and spoke with Mr. Vaudo.
In the conversation that ensued, Mr. Vaudo said he had been working at 10 AM, but denied buying any shellfish that morning or knowing Mr. Bryant.
Barnstable police proceeded to question a passenger in Mr. Bryant’s vehicle that morning, Harold Snowden.
Mr. Snowden said Mr. Bryant had just brought a bunch of oysters to Mr. Vaudo and sold them. He said he went along on the ride as Mr. Bryant owed him money and he was hoping to be repaid.
“Snowden said that neither he nor Bryant have a license to sell or take oysters,” the Barnstable police stated in a court document. “Snowden said that Mr. Bryant has been selling to [Mr. Vaudo] for many years.”
According to police, Mr. Snowden said that Mr. Bryant had obtained the oysters after placing them in Swan Pond to grow. Mr. Snowden said he knew that the oysters were stolen, police said, but denied any role in stealing them.
In a subsequent police interrogation, according to court documents, Mr. Bryant told Barnstable police detectives that he sold Mr. Vaudo 800 oysters for 40 cents apiece, for a total of $320.
Mr. Trudeau said prosecutors believe that Mr. Bryant sold Mr. Vaudo stolen shellfish for years.
Earlier this month, Mr. Lowell said that he and other shellfishermen were especially concerned that Mr. Bryant allegedly had been selling oysters raised in contaminated waters.
NBCNews.com has called contaminated oysters one of the 10 riskiest foods in America, saying their consumption can lead to severe sickness, even death.
According to court documents, the current lease held by Joe’s Lobster Mart on Army Corps property prohibits the use of the property for any illegal business or purpose.
According to the state law that Mr. Vaudo admitted violating, any permit issued to a fish dealer must be surrendered to the director of the Division of Marine Fisheries if the dealer files a false statistical report.
State environmental police confirmed that Mr. Vaudo held a wholesale commercial fisheries dealer permit for 2013, the year in which Mr. Vaudo admitted buying the stolen oysters.
Mr. Vaudo was listed in the division’s database as the owner and proprietor of Joe’s Lobster Mart, Inc. The wholesale permit was issued under his name.