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4 Accused of Cheating R.I. Lobster Stocks

December 12, 2003

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) _ Four lobstermen were charged with scamming a program to restock coastal waters after Rhode Island’s worst-ever oil spill, the state environmental agency said Friday.

The indictments accused the commercial fishermen of taking payments after falsely claiming they had helped mark lobsters for protection.

The program began after more than 9 million lobsters died when the barge North Cape ran aground in a 1996 storm and spilled about 828,000 gallons of home heating oil into the Block Island and Rhode Island sounds.

Indicted Tuesday on charges of obtaining at least $500 under false pretenses and filing false documents were Edward T. Duckworth Jr., 38; Michael B. Handrigan, 38; and Bruce E. Kopf, 50, all of Narragansett; and Frank Garofano III, 43, of Charlestown. They will be arraigned Jan. 5.

A spokesman for the attorney general said he couldn’t specify how much money each man is accused of taking but each allegedly collected more than $500, rising to the level of a felony offense.

Handrigan said he had not heard of the indictments. Messages left for Duckworth and Garofano were not immediately returned. There was no answer at a home telephone listing for Kopf.

A fifth man, Eric J. Winn, 48, of South Kingstown, pleaded no contest in May to misdemeanor counts of obtaining money under false pretenses and filing false documents.

In the restocking program, lobstermen who volunteered to participate would swear by affidavit that they would clip v-shaped notches in the tails of more than 1.2 million adult female lobsters. Notched lobsters were returned to the water and are illegal to possess until they molt and the notch disappears _ giving them more time to produce eggs.

Under an honor system, fishermen reported how many lobsters they notched each day and were paid the prevailing price for a 1 1/4-pound lobster, usually a few dollars apiece.

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On the Net:

Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management: http://www.state.ri.us/dem

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