There was definitely something fishy going on at the Scissor Inn barber shop.
And it took a bizarre, year-long undercover investigation to reel in the truth: The elderly owner was playing the role of "Codfather," supplementing his earnings with a hair-raising scheme to serve up hundreds of pounds of black-market pickerel on the side.
Ernie Marko, 72, was fined $2,600 Wednesday in one of the first cases of its kind discovered in Winnipeg. He admitted to being on the hook for several violations of the Fisheries Act after being caught in a net cast by officials who visited his Jefferson Avenue business while posing as would-be customers.
'This was a planned, prolonged scheme for selling freshwater fish that had been illegally caught'
Marko took the bait on seven occasions between October 2011 and September 2012, court was told. Each time, he sold 10 pounds of frozen filets in exchange for $55 despite not having a licence.
"This was a planned, prolonged scheme for selling freshwater fish that had been illegally caught," provincial court Judge Anne Krahn said in handing down her decision.
Marko argued for no further sanctions beyond the forfeiture of $775 seized upon his arrest last fall.
Defence lawyer Mark Wasyliw claims his client has been cutting hair for 51 years, makes less than $30,000 annually and can't afford a big financial hit.
But the judge said she wanted to send a strong message that those who try to bypass federal regulations will pay a heavy price.
She said people such as Marko undercut those who are working hard to make an honest living. "This is not a victimless crime," she said.
Marko admits he was buying the seafood from a commercial fisherman he repeatedly described to undercover agents as "my guy," saying the man was catching the pickerel above and beyond his legal quota.
Marko took a 50-cent per pound cut, which Wasyliw said shows it wasn't a get-rich scheme.
The defence lawyer told court it began as "social trafficking," in which Marko would sell to a number of family members and friends. But the investigation revealed it grew into something much bigger.
Officials who posed as customers say Marko would often tell them they'd have to be patient to get their fish because they were "way down" on his waiting list.
He boasted of having 100-pound orders to fill and even had a detailed spreadsheet of dozens of customer names, orders and payment history.
The Crown questioned Marko's claim he sold about 500 pounds of fish "at most" per year, arguing the sophisticated tracking system -- not unlike what officials see with sophisticated drug dealers -- shows it was a lucrative enterprise for Marko.
On the day of his arrest, officials found 120 pounds of pickerel inside Marko's barbershop, court was told. The Crown sought fines of more than $5,000, saying Marko shouldn't get away with a penalty that equates to the "cost of doing business."
Krahn agreed Wednesday it appears "there was a significant volume of sales over a significant period of time" and imposed a fine between what Crown and defence lawyers suggested.
Marko declined to comment upon leaving court. He has one year to pay his penalties.