Fate of Joe's Fish & Lobster Mart Remains In Limbo

The case against Sandwich seafood retailer Joseph A. Vaudo is heating up both inside and outside the hearing room.

On July 8, the attorney representing the state Department of Public Health in the matter filed a motion seeking summary judgment to strip Mr. Vaudo of two key permits he needs to conduct his longtime business, Joe’s Fish & Lobster Mart. The business is located off Canal Road.

The state agency previously moved to take away Mr. Vaudo’s permits in light of his guilty pleas March 28 in Barnstable District Court stemming from his purchase of stolen oysters.

Mr. Vaudo appealed the action to the state Division of Administrative Law Appeals, where a clerk magistrate eventually will rule on whether to uphold or deny the appeal.

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Meanwhile, Cape Cod’s top law enforcement official, district attorney Michael D. O’Keefe, has written a letter at the request of Mr. Vaudo’s attorney to the state Department of Public Health.

Statements in the letter have riled the Cape shellfishing community, which already was outraged by the theft of oysters last year in Dennis and Barnstable, and by Mr. Vaudo’s admission in court that he bought stolen oysters.

The letter also drew criticism from Richard Barry, the Cotuit Democrat who is running against Mr. O’Keefe for the district attorney’s seat in the November 4 election.

In the official proceeding at the state Division of Administrative Law Appeals, James M. Strong, deputy general counsel at the state Department of Public Health, filed a motion July 8 stating that the undisputed facts of the case prove that Mr. Vaudo violated agency regulations and thus should lose his permits.

In the motion, Mr. Strong argues that Mr. Vaudo’s guilty pleas on two charges and admission of sufficient facts on a third charge stemming from the purchase of stolen oysters constitute grounds for revocation of his permits.

Mr. Strong further dismisses an assertion made on behalf of Mr. Vaudo by his attorney at a prior proceeding that the stolen oysters never made their way into the marketplace.

“Even assuming the subject oysters were not sold to the public, [Mr.] Vaudo engaged in an illegal shellfish transaction when he bought stolen oysters from [alleged oyster thief Michael E.] Bryant at the permitted facility,” Mr. Strong states, alluding to Joe’s Lobster Mart.

And the deputy counsel further rejects the argument made by Mr. Vaudo’s attorney, John Kiernan of Boston, that Mr. Vaudo already has paid sufficiently for his offenses through his criminal conviction and subsequent fines.

Mr. Strong draws a distinction between bringing two criminal cases for the same offense, which would be considered double jeopardy, and bringing criminal and civil charges stemming from that offense.

“That the consequence for the subject of the proceeding may be as, or more, severe than criminal sanctions does not make a civil sanction criminal,” he states.

Mr. Kiernan is scheduled to file his reply to the summary judgment motion by Tuesday, July 22.

For now, a full hearing is scheduled September 4 in the matter.

As for Mr. O’Keefe, he wrote a letter dated May 27 to the state Department of Public Health that detailed the disposition of the criminal case against Barnstable District Court against Mr. Vaudo.

“The district attorney’s office believed this to be the appropriate punishment in light of the lack of this business’s or Mr. Vaudo’s prior involvement with this court for any similar violations,” Mr. O’Keefe wrote.

“In addition, there is no credible evidence of any other illegal sales to this business,” the district attorney wrote. “Nor is there any evidence that this one-time offense resulted in any adverse public health consequences.”

Among the members of the Cape shellfish community who have taken issue with the district attorney’s letter is Ronald Glantz of Marstons Mills, president of the Barnstable Association for Recreational Shellfishing.

The organization, which consists of recreational shellfish license holders in Barnstable, put up a $1,000 reward for information that police said helped play a key role in breaking the oyster-theft-and-sale case.

“The punishment of a fine of $6,250 is not punitive on a business that does millions of dollars in sales each year,” Mr. Glantz wrote. “Where is the deterrent? So in this case the punishment does not fit the crime.”

He further writes that it was inappropriate for the district attorney to write a letter on behalf of Mr. Vaudo.

Mr. Barry, who is running against Mr. O’Keefe for district attorney, held and worked a shellfish grant in Barnstable Harbor from September 2005 to June 2010. He said Mr. Vaudo should have been indicted rather than allowed to plead out in district court.

“The victims in this case are the shellfishermen who were robbed and suffered loss of profit while [Mr.] Vaudo admitted to buying and selling those oysters,” Mr. Barry stated in a release.

“While the DA advocates for the criminal who pleaded guilty in this case, who is advocating for compensating the victims?” the candidate asks.

Mr. O’Keefe declined to comment on the record about the criticism raised against him by Cape shellfishermen in the Vaudo matter.

As for the assertions by Mr. Barry, the district attorney said, “I don’t mix cases and politics.”

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