A dozen fishermen gathered at the Lester property in Amagansett on Monday evening as a show of support for a request made earlier to the governor's office for a state investigation into warrant-less search and fish seizures.
The Department of Environmental Conservation should have to follow the same due process laws that other police agencies follow, according to Daniel G. Rodgers, a Riverhead attorney who is representing siblings Paul and Kelly Lester, who were and have since asked to be for the fish that the DEC sold after seizing it as evidence.
They've received no response.
"It is our belief that these warrant-less searches and subsequent seizures are in direct violation of the United States Constitution," Rodgers wrote in a letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday.
"These seizures and these unconstitutional acts have been done on the backs of these hardworking men and women who have been fishing these waters for many years," Rodgers said in a press conference at the Lesters.
Where the monetary proceeds end up is unclear.
In a move that has the support of Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., I-Sag Harbor, who joined the group in Amagansett on Monday, Rodgers requested Cuomo's office appoint a committee to investigate "the length and scope of these unconstitutional acts as well as determine the whereabouts of the monies seized from Long Island fishermen."
The Lesters were joined by fellow Amagansett fishermen Stuart Vorpahl, who said he lost $1,000 after charges against him were dismissed, and , who said he lost $17,000 in proceeds after he was charged with falsifying records.
"The Lesters are not the first family to come to me and talk about problems with the DEC and how fishing regulations are enforced," Thiele said. He said fishermen deserve an answer. "I think it's part of the role of us as elected officials that they get an answer. And if we don't like the answer that's when we start changing things."
Last week without warrants and force the DEC to show probable cause. He said the bill is gaining co-sponsors and will be introduced after the state recess. In the meantime, he said Sen. Ken LaValle, R-Port Jefferson, and Sen. Lee M. Zeldin, R-Shirley, have agreed to sponsor the bill in the state senate.
Rodgers said that other fishermen had been lined up to come show support, but they were scared following a large DEC raid in Freeport last week.
"While it might not seem like a large sum of money to a lot of folks," Rodgers said of the $200 in question, "to fishermen who fish from the beaches in small wooden boats, as you can see, it's a lot of money. And we're not going to give up until we get all of back."
But, asked if the Lesters would be filing suit against the DEC, their attorney said, "At this point, it's not something we would like to do. We shouldn't have to file a lawsuit and engage in litigation and bear those costs." He also said simply getting the money back without the answers would be meaningless.