The Epic Cape Cod Stolen Oyster Battle Isn’t Over Yet

Posted on October 7, 2014 by

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The owner of Joe’s Lobster Mart has dug in his heels and plans to fight on.

On Friday, the state issued a cease and desist order to Joe Vaudo, owner of the Sandwich retailer and wholesaler whose business received stolen oysters last year. The Department of Public Health moved to revoke the business’ license to buy and sell seafood.

(Michael Bryant, the alleged thief who brought the oysters to Vaudo, was sentenced to two years in prison for the shellfish theft.)

Vaudo isn’t going down without a fight. This weekend, according to The Cape Cod Times, he answered by securing an injunction.

Vaudo stood behind the market’s counter on Saturday afternoon while seven customers waited in line.

“We have an injunction against the state of Massachusetts right now,” Vaudo said, holding the paperwork in his hands. “That’s why we’re open. We plan on staying open.”

The DPH decision came after Vaudo made an unsuccessful appeal of the revocation.

In March, after a months-long investigation, Vaudo pleaded guilty to receiving stolen oysters, and was forced to pay more than $6,000 as part of the plea agreement.

But that wasn’t the end of it.

Vaudo’s guilty plea saved him from further criminal proceedings. It didn’t save him from the wrath of the state’s Department of Public Health.

Running a seafood spot like Joe’s—located right on the Cape Cod Canal for four decades—isn’t simple, and there are a plethora of rules and regulations that come with the territory.

When oysters are stolen off a farm, they haven’t been through that process, making them a threat to public health.

Shortly after Vaudo entered his plea, the Department of Public Health moved to revoke his permits.

Vaudo appealed, buying himself another summer’s worth of sales. He made his defense in early September at the state’s Division of Administrative Law Appeals.

His argument: Public health was never at threat because he claimed to have dumped the oysters into the Cape Cod Canal and they never entered the market.

But on Friday, DPH said the argument didn’t carry much sway. From its order:

This argument misses the point entirely. The Department’s regulations are in place to protect the public health. Failure to comply with the regulations—particularly given the facts of this case—necessarily compromises the public health. Otherwise, permit-holders would be allowed to violate the regulations, so long as no member of the public is actually harmed as a direct result of that specific violation. Such a rationale would render the regulations virtually meaningless. Furthermore, this argument illustrates (Vaudo’s) lack of awareness and comprehension of one of the pivotal aspects of food safety—industry self-policing.

Translation: Rules are rules, and anyway, you took stolen oysters! Not cool.

So far, the state’s Division of Administrative Law Appeals has handled the matter. The injunction gets the case into the legal system.

If the revocation holds, it would effectively kill Vaudo’s business, which is said to amount to a few million dollars in revenue per year. As of Monday afternoon, a hearing is scheduled for Tuesday afternoon, but it could be delayed.

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