ELLSWORTH, Maine — Nine months after pleading no contest to tax evasion for underreporting his income from elver and lobster fishing, a local man has begun serving his 90-day jail sentence for the crime.
Danny Deraps, 43, who caught more than $700,000 worth of elvers in 2012, was found guilty of theft and three counts of tax evasion after reaching a plea agreement with prosecutors last March.
At his sentencing this past June, Deraps received an overall sentence of 364 days in jail with all but 90 days suspended. He also was ordered to serve two years of administrative release in addition to the jail time.
Deraps reported to Hancock County Jail in Ellsworth the day after Christmas to begin serving his 90-day incarceration term. According to Gregg Bernstein, an assistant attorney general with the state, the court delayed when Deraps would have to report to jail so he could fish for lobster through the end of the fall fishing season.
Calls made to defense attorney Glen Porter on Tuesday were not returned.
Deraps underreported his elver and lobster fishing income in 2012 and his lobster fishing income in 2010 and 2011, state officials have said. The theft charge was a result of Deraps receiving $393.98 in a state tax and rent refund in November 2011, after he had falsely misrepresented his eligibility for the refund on his tax returns.
Bernstein said Tuesday that by the time Deraps was sentenced this past June, he had paid all the back taxes that he owed to the state. He paid $25,338.51 toward his tax debt in March and then, three months later, paid the remaining $34,672.49, resolving the total multi-year tax bill of $60,011.
State officials have indicated that Deraps earned more than $700,000 from elver fishing in 2012 and nearly $70,000 more in lobster fishing income that same year. Bernstein declined to disclose Deraps’ income from elver and lobster fishing in 2010 or 2011.
Bernstein said Deraps cooperated with prosecutors throughout the case and that the state wanted to be fair but firm. The delay in when Deraps had to report to jail was a result of not wanting to compound the fisherman’s income issues, he said.
“There was a lot of money involved,” Bernstein said. “It’s a balance of prosecuting a very serious offense, but also being reasonable with a defendant who cooperates with the state. Mr. Deraps was extremely cooperative throughout the proceeding.”
Deraps’ elver license was suspended this past spring as part of the plea agreement. He is expected to be released from Hancock County Jail in Ellsworth by the end of this coming March, when the 2015 elver fishing season is expected to have just gotten under way.
He will be allowed to resume elver fishing after he is released from jail, DMR spokesman Jeff Nichols said Tuesday. Deraps’ lobster license was not suspended or revoked as a result of the tax evasion case, Nichols added.
In 2012, before catch quotas were enacted, Maine’s elver season lasted a full 10 weeks. If Deraps caught more than $700,000 worth of elvers during the 10-week season, that means he had an average weekly income of more than $70,000.
Demand for the baby American eels, which are raised for the Asian seafood market, has soared since 2011, driving the price of elvers up to record highs.
In 2012, two years after they had averaged $185 per pound, elver fishermen in Maine earned an average price of $1,866 per pound, according to statistics compiled by Maine Department of Marine Resources. That year, the statewide haul of more than 20,000 pounds generated more than $38 million in gross revenue for Maine’s several hundred licensed elver fishermen.
This past spring, prices paid to fishermen receded to around $400 to $600 per pound, low compared to recent years but still exceptionally high compared to pre-2011 prices.