Hoax caller sentenced to prison

RALEIGH, NC – United States Attorney George E.B. Holding announced that in federal court Thursday United States District Judge James C. Dever III, sentenced Jeremy C. Fisher, 25, of Holly Ridge, N.C., to 12 months and one day imprisonment followed by three years supervised release. The court also imposed restitution to the Coast Guard for all search and rescue costs associated with the various hoax calls attributable to him in the amount of $234,619.28.

A federal grand jury returned a criminal indictment on Dec. 17, 2009. On March 8, 2010, Fisher pled guilty to conspiring to make false distress messages, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 371.

On Oct. 18, 2008, the Coast Guard received a false distress call from the Holly Ridge high site antenna. Fisher repeated “Mayday – Mayday.” The Coast Guard responded, asking for the nature of the distress. Fisher reported that his vessel was taking on water and claimed he was attached to a buoy, with six people on board, and asked the Coast Guard for assistance. Fisher continued, saying “Mayday, Mayday, Mayday.” When the Coast Guard responder realized it was a hoax, the responder advised the callers that it was unlawful to make a false distress call and advised the caller of the penalties. Fisher responded with repeated profanities. The investigation found that Fisher, co-defendant Steven G. Medina, and others had been drinking when the false calls were made.

Further investigation revealed that in October, 2007, Fisher and co-defendant William H. Yates had also made a false distress call. It was further learned that Fisher had made at least 22 other false distress calls.

Holding stated, “Hoax phone calls put at risk the lives’ of others that might be in legitimate need of assistance. We cannot impress upon everyone strongly enough that ‘crying wolf’ can costs lives as well as taxpayer dollars.”

“Not only do false distress calls place Coast Guard personnel at great risk, these hoaxes present a real danger to the boating public by diverting scarce Coast Guard resources from mariners in legitimate danger,” said Rear Adm. Wayne Justice, Coast Guard 5th District commander. “As we approach the summer boating season, it is important to emphasize the hazards and stop these false distress calls in order to help prevent loss of life on the water.”

“We appreciate the leadership of the U.S. Attorney in taking this case to successful conclusion,” said Capt. Anthony Popiel, Coast Guard Sector North Carolina commander. “Hoax distress calls divert limited search and rescue resources from actual emergency situations and recklessly place innocent lives at risk. This prosecution sends a strong message that such behavior will not be tolerated.”

Sentencing for Yates and Medina has been set for June 21, 2010.

Investigation of this case was conducted by the Coast Guard Investigative Service. Assistant United States Attorney Banumathi Rangarajan and Special Assistant United States Attorney Laurina M. Spolidoro represented the government.

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