A longtime operator of a Sandwich seafood market has pleaded guilty to criminal charges in connection with the alleged theft of oysters from Barnstable and Dennis.
Joseph A. Vaudo, 62, president and treasurer of Joe’s Lobster Mart on Coast Guard Road, pleaded guilty last Friday, March 28, in Barnstable District Court to charges of receiving property in a false trade and failing or refusing to file statistical reports as a wholesale or retail shellfish dealer.
Mr. Vaudo also admitted sufficient facts to willfully misleading a police investigation.
He was fined $250 for receiving property in a false trade and $1,000 for the fishery report violation.
The shellfish dealer also was fined $5,000 for his admission of facts to misleading a police investigation. On that admission, he also was assessed a $90 fee for the victim/witness fund and $600 in probation for the coming year.
Mr. Vaudo, who lives on Route 6A, is a member of the Sandwich Planning Board. He is running for re-election to a three-year term in the May 8 town election.
The businessman last Friday pleaded guilty in connection with indictments returned by a Barnstable County grand jury against Michael E. Bryant, 37, of Yarmouth.
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 today that Mr. Bryant will be arraigned on the charges in Barnstable Superior Court.
Mr. Trudeau said an arraignment date has yet to be scheduled. For now, Mr. Bryant is not in custody.
In a statement released last Friday, March 28, Cape & Islands District Attorney Michael D. O’Keefe said the indictments of Mr. Bryant stem 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.
John Lowell, an oyster farmer and wholesaler from Crowes Pasture in East Dennis, and the Barnstable Association for Recreational Shellfishing, a nonprofit group based in West Barnstable, each proceeded to offer $1,000 rewards for information leading to the arrest of the poacher or poachers.
Following the posting of the rewards, the Barnstable police received information pointing to Mr. Bryant.
Barnstable police detectives proceeded to establish surveillance of Mr. Bryant, who according to court documents lives on Swan Lake Road in West Yarmouth.
Last October 25, Barnstable police observed Mr. Bryant spending between two and three hours raking shellfish from Swan Pond, a couple of hundred yards from his house.
At 10 AM on October 26, according to court documents, Barnstable Police Detective Lieutenant Sean E. Balcom arrived at Joe’s Lobster Mart and 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 transport him to the Barnstable police headquarters.
At the same time of the stop, according to court documents, Det. 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 he 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.
On Monday, March 31, Mr. Trudeau said prosecutors believe that Mr. Bryant sold Mr. Vaudo stolen shellfish for years.
Last Friday, March 28, Mr. O’Keefe said that the case remains under investigation by the Massachusetts Environmental Police and the Barnstable Police Department.
On Monday evening, Det. Lt. Balcom called the rewards offered by Mr. Lowell and the Barnstable association “certainly one of the motivating factors in motivating the informant to come forward.”
The president of the Barnstable shellfishing association, Ronald Glantz of Marstons Mills, said Monday evening that “we’re very pleased that the two awards were helpful and beneficial in finding the guilty parties.”
Mr. Glantz said the association, a nonprofit organization, volunteers to help transplant the oysters grown by the town into recreational and commercial beds.
“If they’re stealing from the town, they’re stealing from us,” Mr. Glantz said.