UNITED STATES NEWS

Papers: Fed boat bought with fines used for fun

Feb 18, 2012, 1:22 AM

Associated Press

BOSTON (AP) – A luxury undercover boat purchased with fines collected from fishermen was used by federal fishery police to visit dockside restaurants with friends and for high-speed “pleasure cruising,” according to documents released Friday.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration bought the 35-foot boat for about $300,000, so its law enforcement officers could covertly monitor whether whale watch boats in Washington’s Puget Sound were harassing the animals.

But the documents indicate the boat was rarely used for official business.

“It was a fishermen-funded party boat for bureaucrats,” U.S. Sen. Scott Brown said on the Senate floor Friday.

Brown’s office obtained the U.S. Commerce Department’s Inspector General’s review of the purchase after a Freedom of Information Act request.

The boat’s purchase was first disclosed in July 2010, as part of an audit by the inspector general on how the millions in fines paid by fishermen were being spent. The audit uncovered broad mismanagement of the fines, which can reach six figures. NOAA has since reformed how the fines are monitored and handled.

On Friday, Brown said the luxury boat was a symbol of NOAA’s damaged relationship with fishermen and again asked President Obama to fire NOAA chief Jane Lubchenco.

“This needs to change and accountability starts at the top,” he said. “If not now, when?”

Gloucester fisherman Richard Burgess, who unsuccessfully fought an $85,000 fine he said was largely a result of a paperwork error, compared enforcement agents to the mob and said they deserved prison.

“They’re abusing hardworking fishermen’s money,” he said.

NOAA said “appropriate action” has or will be taken against employees involved, though it didn’t release details, citing privacy rules.

The agency added it has fixed problems found by the inspector general by overhauling its enforcement program with new leadership, policies to ensure consistent enforcement practices nationwide and better accounting and oversight.

Agency spokeswoman Connie Barclay said Lubchenco “has always sought success for fishermen and wants to work with them to build a profitable and sustainable industry.”

NOAA’s law enforcement office is charged with enforcing the nation’s complicated fisheries laws, which regulate, for example, where and with what gear fishermen can fish.

The boat was purchased in February 2008, before Lubchenco was appointed to lead NOAA. Its purpose was to blend in with whale watch boats and ensure they didn’t break federal rules by moving within 100 yards of the whales, according to the documents.

A brochure for the boat, a Boston Whaler Model 345 Conquest, says it holds 14 people and its “luxurious interior” includes a flat screen television, island bed and hardwood cabin flooring.

The report said after the boat’s June 2008 launch in Seattle, a NOAA enforcement agent _ whose name was redacted _ took his wife and friend to a restaurant in Bremerton, despite rules barring non-federal employee from being on board.

The agent took friends to eat at a Gig Harbor restaurant on Aug. 5, 2008, then got stranded with his wife in Puget Sound a few days later because he ran out of gas headed to another restaurant, according to the review.

The report said passengers drank beer during the Gig Harbor trip in what one passenger called “every bit a pleasure cruise,” adding he’d never been on a boat that fast.

The agent used the boat when it was moored at Elliott Bay Marina to host two small barbeques with his wife, the report said.

The agent justified the restaurant trips to investigators by saying he needed to “break in” the boats and practice docking. He said he didn’t believe he had to report such trips and told investigators he thought having his wife and friends aboard was permitted.

“Our investigation found these assertions to be rationalizations lacking validity and candor,” the report read.

Investigators said the boat has conducted just nine law enforcement patrols since its purchase. The vessel also appears to be a bit of a lemon. Investigators reported “numerous maintenance and mechanical problems.”

Barclay said the boat isn’t currently being used because it didn’t meet federal purchasing guidelines. She said it will be offered to other government agencies and put up for sale if there are no takers.

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

United States News

Associated Press

Guard kills Georgia inmate at hospital after he overpowered other officer, investigators say

SANDERSVILLE, Ga. (AP) — A Georgia prison guard shot and killed a prisoner she had helped escort to a hospital for treatment after he snatched another guard’s pepper spray and used it to overpower him, authorities said Wednesday. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation said its agents are investigating the late Tuesday shooting at Washington County […]

48 seconds ago

President Joe Biden speaks April 24, 2024, before signing a $95 billion war aid measure that includ...

Associated Press

Joe Biden signs bill that provides aid for Ukraine, others and forces TikTok to be sold or be banned

President Joe Biden signed a bill with aid for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan that includes a provision to force TikTok to be sold or be banned in U.S.

1 hour ago

Associated Press

74-year-old Ohio woman charged in armed robbery of credit union was scam victim, family says

FAIRFIELD TOWNSHIP, Ohio (AP) — A 74-year-old woman charged in the armed robbery of an Ohio credit union last week is a victim of an online scam who may have been trying to solve her financial problems, according to her relatives. Ann Mayers, who had no previous run-ins with the law, faces counts of aggravated […]

1 hour ago

Associated Press

Teen charged in mass shooting at LGBTQ+ friendly punk rock show in Minneapolis

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A teenage suspect who allegedly made derogatory remarks about LGBTQ+ people before opening fire at a backyard punk rock show faces seven felony charges for a shooting that killed one person and injured six others in Minneapolis. The document charging Dominic James Burris and another man says the shooting was motivated by […]

2 hours ago

Associated Press

The Latest | Germany will resume working with UN relief agency for Palestinians after a review

Germany said Wednesday that it plans to follow several other countries in resuming cooperation with the U.N. relief agency for Palestinians in Gaza after the publication of an independent review of its neutrality. The head of the Arab League hailed the report, saying it showed that Israel’s allegations were baseless and part of a “systematic […]

9 hours ago

Associated Press

Columbia University cites progress with Gaza war protesters after encampment arrests

NEW YORK (AP) — Columbia University said early Wednesday that it was making “important progress” with pro-Palestinian student protesters who set up a tent encampment and was extending a deadline to clear out, yet standoffs remained tense on campus. Student protesters “have committed to dismantling and removing a significant number of tents,” the Ivy League […]

11 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...

COLLINS COMFORT MASTERS

Here are 5 things Arizona residents need to know about their HVAC system

It's warming back up in the Valley, which means it's time to think about your air conditioning system's preparedness for summer.

...

DISC Desert Institute for Spine Care

Sciatica pain is treatable but surgery may be required

Sciatica pain is one of the most common ailments a person can face, and if not taken seriously, it could become one of the most harmful.

...

Collins Comfort Masters

Here’s 1 way to ensure your family is drinking safe water

Water is maybe one of the most important resources in our lives, and especially if you have kids, you want them to have access to safe water.

Papers: Fed boat bought with fines used for fun