Dealer sentenced for illegal elver trafficking

PORTLAND — After an investigation lasting more than five years, U.S. District Court Judge Jon D. Levy sentenced Woolwich elver dealer William Sheldon to serve six months in federal prison and three years of supervised release for illegally trafficking in the juvenile eels over a period of four years beginning in 2011.

In addition, Sheldon will have to pay a fine of $10,000 and forfeit $33,200 in lieu of a truck he used in his elver business. He also is barred from having a license to buy or export elvers during the term of his supervised release.

Levy allowed Sheldon to delay his surrender to federal prison authorities until early June so he could attend his granddaughter’s college graduation.

In 2017, a federal grand jury indicted Sheldon, then 71, on seven charges relating to buying and selling juvenile eels, known as “elvers” or “glass eels,” illegally harvested outside the state of Maine between 2011 and 2015. The charges came out of a prolonged multistate investigation that authorities dubbed “Operation Broken Glass.”

Last October, Sheldon entered a guilty plea to one count of violating the federal Lacey Act, admitting to buying elvers from an undercover U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agent in April 2013 that had been illegally harvested in South Carolina and elsewhere. He admitted to trafficking illegal elvers worth more than $550,000.

The charge carried a potential penalty of five years in prison, a fine of $250,000 and three years of supervised release.

In April, federal prosecutors asked the judge to impose a substantial sentence and send Sheldon to prison for 18 months.

Last year, a federal district court in Virginia sentenced Tommy Zhou, a New York City elver dealer caught up in the operation, to serve 18 months in prison for illegally trafficking more than $150,000 worth of the baby eels. The circumstances surrounding his activities differed considerably from the conduct admitted by Sheldon.

According to the sentencing memorandum filed by federal prosecutors in Virginia, Zhou told undercover federal wildlife officers that “he wanted to work with them as a team, year after year,” but said he would “pay $200,000 to have [them] killed” if they betrayed him.

Federal prosecutors never suggested that Sheldon made any kind of threats during the investigation.

Two other defendants also were sentenced last week in connection with illegal elver trafficking.

Timothy Lewis of Phippsburg was sentenced to six months in prison followed by three years of supervised release with the condition that he may not possess a license to purchase or export elvers. He pled guilty to trafficking nearly $500,000 worth of illegal elvers. Lewis also was ordered to pay a $2,500 fine.

Thomas Reno of West Bath was sentenced to one year of probation. He admitted to trafficking more $100,000 worth of illegal elvers.


Stephen Rappaport

Stephen Rappaport

Waterfront Editor at The Ellsworth American
Stephen Rappaport has lived in Maine for nearly 30 years. A lifelong sailor, he spends as much time as possible messing about in boats. [email protected]

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