An ugly crime

In the courtroom, as the big criminal conspiracy unfolded, the judge asks Ed Narte, 36, a Boeing worker, what he was confessing to. What valuable thing had he stolen?

An ugly clam, Narte says.

Fine, says the judge, federal magistrate John Weinberg, sitting on the bench in the US Courthouse, Fifth Avenue, Seattle, the other day. Narte will be sentenced for his criminal acts this week. On this day he is admitting to them. Weinberg takes him through the preliminaries.

"How much education have you completed?"

"Twelve years high school."

"Are you presently under the influence of any controlled substance or alcohol?"

"Prozac."

"Prozac?"

"Yeah."

"OK. Is that affecting your ability to understand proceedings today or to make decisions as to whether to enter a guilty plea or not?"

"No."

"I take it that's pursuant—you're taking that drug as part of a program for treatment for emotional problems. Is that right?"

"Yeah."

The judge asks Narte if he has a good attorney and is properly represented. Narte says yes. The judge then reminds Narte of his rights, and Narte says OK, I know them.

"While we're on that subject, Miss Brunner, perhaps you could summarize for us what the charge is in count one, what the possible penalties are."

"Yes, your honor," says Helen Brunner, assistant attorney for the United States of America. "The charge—count one of the indictment charges Mr. Narte with a conspiracy that begins on or about September 18, 1995 and continues until on or about January 13, 1997." When the huge crime wave ended.

"The object of the conspiracy had two objects," Brunner continues. "One was the knowing sale and purchase in interstate commerce of geoduck clams, with a market value of in excess of $350, knowing that the clams were taken, possessed, transported, or sold in violation of Washington state law. And the second object is the knowing export in foreign commerce of geoduck clams, knowing that they were taken, possessed, transported or sold in violation of Washington state law.

"The maximum penalty for that charge is a term of imprisonment of up to five years, a fine of $250,000, a period of supervised release of between two and three years, and $100 special penalty assessment to be paid to the crime victim fund."

Weinberg looks down at Narte. He is one of six men who is said to have conspired to steal ugly clams, the result of a three-year investigation. He is the 10th in this US district to be recently prosecuted for felony wrongful use of a geoduck, a prized edible object that, once on the plate, makes you think the words "John Wayne Bobbitt." Three men pleaded guilty in 1996 and last year a geoduck broker named Nick DeCourville got 40 months. He frightened a rival by threatening to put out a contract to have his legs broken, then blow him up, then really hurt him. DeCourville said he was with the mob. Maybe that started it.

Weinberg asks Narte if he understands what a conspiracy is: "That there was an agreement between two or more persons to commit at least one of the crimes charged as the object of the conspiracy. They would have to prove that you became a member of the conspiracy, that you knew its objects and intended to help accomplish the objects of the conspiracy, and three, they would have to prove at least one member of the conspiracy performed at least one act for the purpose of carrying out the conspiracy. Do you understand those elements?"

"Yes."

"Basically in summary," Weinberg says, "they have charged that you participated in the dive harvest of geoduck clams with your brother Henry and others, that you did not personally have a license or a valid harvest agreement to do it.... Is that all true, sir?"

"Yes."

"In applying the sentencing guidelines the court must make a determination as to the quantity of geoduck clams involved during the time you participated in the conspiracy, and the value of those clams." Was it correct there were 20,000 pounds of ugly clams at a value of $12 a pound?

"Yes."

"You've agreed to pay the resulting income tax and penalties as directed by the Internal Revenue Service. Is that true, sir?"

"Yes."

"You have also agreed to tell on your brother and the others, right?

"Yes."

And the government will let you off easy?

"Yes."

"Once again, Mr. Narte, the charge against you in this case in count one is that you participated in a conspiracy in violation of 18 US Code section 371 with Henry Narte, Gerry Santillan, Jong Min Park, Thomas Manho King, and Thomas Lee. This conspiracy involved the taking and the marketing of geoduck clams in violation of applicable law and regulations."

"Yes."

"How do you plead to the charge? Guilty or not guilty?"

"Guilty."

Fine, Weinberg says. Let's knock off.

This week Narte gets probation and continues telling on the others. Soon the rest of the gang that couldn't dig straight may be standing for their own sentences. We will for the moment have stamped out organized clamming by people whose weapon of choice was a 23-foot Bayliner. This seems about right for us. Once the major conspiracy here involved police and public officials getting together to allow bingo. Now the mob steals food no one can stand to look at. Nowhere else can they say it feels good to go outside knowing it is safe from shovelers.

 
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