30 months in FL.
Man Gets 30 Months In Coast Guard Rescue Hoax - Sun Sentinel
Man Gets 30 Months In Coast Guard Rescue Hoax
October 31, 2006|By Vanessa Blum Staff Writer
It might have seemed like a harmless prank at the time.
But a federal judge in Miami said Robert Moran should have known his bogus mayday call to the U.S. Coast Guard in June would lead people to risk their lives searching for nine people reported lost at sea off Boynton Beach Inlet.
U.S. District Judge Joan Lenard sentenced Moran, an out-of-work tow truck driver from Boynton Beach, to 30 months in prison Monday for placing a false distress call.
She ordered Moran, 45, to pay the government $347,015
to cover the cost of the two-day search-and-rescue operation launched in response to his June 11 call. Prosecutor Thomas Watts-FitzGerald said the search effort was particularly dangerous because of the darkness and stormy weather conditions.
Moran radioed for help just before 11 p.m. and told emergency dispatchers his 33-foot boat, a Grady White called the Blue Sheep, was taking on water, according to the Coast Guard.
He said eight other people were aboard, including four children and his wife, who he said was injured.
"This is the Blue Sheep, taking on water and sinking," Moran shouted, according to a transcript of the call.
At Monday's hearing, Coast Guard Lt. Christopher Douglas said the Coast Guard made no effort then to detect whether the call might be a hoax.
"Every call that we receive, regardless of nature, we prosecute to the fullest extent possible," Douglas said.
Seas in the search area rose as high as six feet June 12 as Tropical Storm Alberto closed in, he said. Two days later, with no sign of debris and no sightings of the Blue Sheep or its supposed passengers, the Coast Guard suspended its search.
An anonymous tipster who recognized the caller's voice from news reports led investigators to Moran, who pleaded guilty Aug. 21 to making a false distress call.
Defense lawyer Benjamin Fernandez said Moran was under the influence of alcohol and painkillers at the time and never intended to harm anyone.
"This was a crude attempt at a very foolish act that Mr. Moran has great remorse for," Fernandez said, asking for a lighter sentence of 18 to 24 months.
Lenard opted for a more severe punishment, siding with prosecutors who said Moran should have known his call would cause Coast Guard personnel and other responders to risk their lives.
Prosecutor Watts-FitzGerald did not offer a motive for Moran's hoax but said it was a "calculated effort" to elicit a government response.