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| Crime |

Restaurateur Bruce Molzan Charged With Running Largest Illegal Seafood Network in Texas History

Now this is how you properly garnish illegally caught red snapper
Now this is how you properly garnish illegally caught red snapper
Photo by Troy Fields
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So much for that whole Cirque du Soleil-themed menu happening at Ruggles Black this month. The restaurant and its sister operation Ruggles Green are now in deep water, with allegations that owner Bruce Molzan has been operating an illegal seafood network since at least 2013, according to Texas game wardens and as first reported by the Houston Chronicle. Molzan apparently "funneled nearly 28,000 pounds of unlawfully-caught finfish," including red snapper, tuna, grouper and more species, into his two restaurants to be sold to customers. The game wardens had been tracking the network since 2013, with Molzan allegedly raking in an estimated $400,000 in profits from protected fish caught by unlicensed fishermen. It could be the largest illegal seafood network in Texas history.

According to a press release, game wardens have issued more than 200 Class C misdemeanor citations related to the investigation, and the TPWD notes that special agents from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Coast Guard also aided in the investigation, with the NOAA also filing felony charges against two of the network's fishermen in Freeport.

Here's how the game wardens got a big break:

The scope of the investigation expanded significantly last April after U.S. Coast Guard crews stopped an unlicensed commercial fishing boat in coastal waters near Freeport with 488 red snapper weighing approximately 1,900 pounds. Texas game wardens and the National Marine Fisheries Service seized the fish, which were illegally caught in the Gulf of Mexico off Freeport and Galveston, and investigators were able to link the subjects with the illegal seafood operation. 

Molzan has been involved in various lawsuits over the past few years, and in 2011, the staff of Molzan's then-restaurant Ruggles Grill walked out claiming the chef owed them back wages and tips upward of $15,000.

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