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Crawfish rustlers, beware, Louisiana deputies are on the case

April 25, 2012|By Richard Fausset
  • Charles Banks handles freshly boiled crawfish during the 20th annual Rajun Cajun Crawfish Festival in Memphis, Tenn.
Charles Banks handles freshly boiled crawfish during the 20th annual Rajun… (Mike Brown / Associated…)

In Texas, there is a special opprobrium reserved for a man who would steal another man's horse. In Louisiana, the same can be said for a crawfish thief.

The Bayou State's criminal code, in fact, specifically addresses the pilfering of mudbugs, in Title 14, Chapter 67, Part 5. Make off with enough of the tiny crustaceans and you could find yourself, at least theoretically, doing a 10-year prison sentence, "with or without hard labor," the law states -- and with a low likelihood of earning the respect of your bunkmate when you tell him how you ended up in Angola.

The problem for law enforcement is that it's not easy to bust violators of 14:67:5, because crawfish theft usually happens when a suspect secretly pulls the creatures out of someone else's traps, which are usually located in the ponds of commercial crawfish farms or out on the bayou.

"It's hard to solve," Major Sid Berthelot of the St. James Parish Sheriff's Deptartment said in an interview Wednesday, "because it's out in the middle of the swamp. Everything's in mud and water."

There are instances, however, of Louisianians being deprived of their crawfish on land. That is allegedly what happened on the night of April 13 in Lutcher, La., a town of 3,700 about 45 minutes upriver from New Orleans. The scene of the crime was Miko's Seafood -- a purveyor of prepared gumbos, etouffes, soups, red snapper, crawfish patties, stuffed potatoes, squash, alligator sausage -- and, at this time of year, hot boiled crawfish.

Employee Jason Straub said that sometime after Miko's closed, the lock to a walk-in cooler was cut and somebody made off with approximately 166 pounds of crawfish -- live ones, wiggling in the sack, that had just been brought in from the owner's crawfish pond in nearby Convent, La.

The sheriff's department was called in, somebody offered up a tip, and soon, Jared Anthony Chauvin, 24, was arrested on suspicion of criminal damage to property and felony theft of crawfish.

On Tuesday, Berthelot said, deputies rounded up an alleged accomplice, Charles Justin Beasley, 26, of nearby Gramercy.

Chauvin was released pending trial, but Berthelot said that Beasley remained in jail Wednesday morning, unable to come up with the bail, which a judge set at a notably steep $26,000.

Berthelot said the stolen goods were not recovered. "I guess they either ate it or sold it," he said.

In a phone interview Wednesday, Straub, the employee, still sounded galled by the effrontery of the alleged bandits, noting that crawfish this season were going for about $3.75 per pound.

"That's a lot of money," he said. "It's literally taking food out of somebody's mouth. That's what it boils down to."

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richard.fausset@latimes.com

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