LAWFUEL – Press Release Service – R. Alexander Acosta, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, and Rear Admiral David W. Kunkel, Commander Seventh Coast Guard District, announced today that defendant, Robert J. Moran, 45, of Boynton Beach, Florida, was charged in an Indictment returned by a Miami Grand Jury with making a false distress call to the Coast Guard on June 11, 2006, in violation of Title 14, United States Code, Section 88c.
If convicted, Moran faces a possible term of imprisonment of up to five years and a criminal fine of the greater of $250,000 or twice the gain or loss from his relevant conduct. Additionally, the enabling statute in Title 14, which provides the legal authority for the Coast Guard’s historic role as America’s maritime search and rescue agency, provides for the recovery from the responsible party for all costs incurred by the Coast Guard as a result of a false distress call.
According to the Indictment, on June 11, 2006, Moran made a broadcast to the United States Coast Guard unit at Miami Beach Florida, claiming that lives and property were in jeopardy, when in truth no help was needed or emergency existed.
The Coast Guard maintains both aviation and water borne assets on alert throughout South Florida to respond to maritime distress calls and to meet its other enforcement obligations, including homeland security, drug interdiction, and commercial vessel safety. As a result of the distress call received by Coast Guard Sector Miami, two fixed-wing aircraft and two helicopters were launched by the Coast Guard to search for the boat and people allegedly in distress. The Coast Guard also deployed two vessels to assist. State and local agency partners also responded. The Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office responded with vessels and a helicopter to aid in the search.
Reports published by the Coast Guard at the time of the search and rescue effort, including the recording of the initial distress call, revealed that the caller claimed the boat was thirty-three feet long, named the “BLUE SHEEP,” taking on water and sinking near Boynton Beach Inlet. The caller claimed that among the nine persons on board, who allegedly took to the water in life jackets, were four children and his injured wife. Although the search lasted almost two full days and covered over 1,000 square miles between Boynton Beach Inlet and St. Lucie Inlet, neither the boat nor the alleged “victims” were ever located. Search and rescue efforts also had to contend with the unsettled weather associated with the passage of Tropical Storm Alberto across the Florida peninsula during the time of the search.
United States Attorney Acosta stated, “Hoax distress calls waste millions of dollars in taxpayer money, squander limited agency resources, and recklessly endanger the lives and well-being of our Coast Guard. We will not tolerate this conduct and will prosecute these cases to the full extent of the law.”
Captain James J. O’Connor, Chief of the Coast Guard District’s Incident Management Branch, stated “Today’s indictment is one example of our united efforts to hold a reckless criminal accountable for his actions. Make no mistake, calling in a false report of distress is a crime and endangers the boating public, commercial mariners, and first responders.”
Mr. Acosta commended the investigative efforts of the Coast Guard Investigative Service, Southeast Region Special Agents and the Boynton Beach Police Department, whose investigative efforts led to the charges in this case. The government was represented in this matter by Assistant United States Attorneys Thomas Watts-FitzGerald and John Kastrenakes.
Excerpts from the initial distress call regarding the U.S. Coast Guard search efforts and U.S. Coast Guard releases are found at the following U.S. Coast Guard websites: