Three plead guilty to making false distress calls

RALEIGH – United States Attorney George E.B. Holding announced that in federal court yesterday three men pled guilty to making false distress calls to the United States Coast Guard.

Jeremy C. Fisher, 25, of Holly Ridge, N.C., pled guilty to conspiring to make false distress messages, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 371.

Co-defendants William H. Yates, 22, of Sneads Ferry, N.C., and Steven G. Medina, 21, of Onslow County, each pled guilty to one count of aiding and abetting false distress messages, in violation of Title 14, United States Code, Section 88(c).

The pleas were heard before United States District Judge James C. Dever, III. A Federal Grand Jury returned a Criminal Indictment on December 17, 2009.

“The Coast Guard regards every distress call as an emergency response, so responding to false distress calls degrades our ability to react to legitimate cases and unnecessarily put our people at risk,” said Rear Adm. Wayne Justice, Coast Guard 5th District commander. “Broadcasting false distress calls is not only irresponsible and dangerous, it is also a felony. This case helps to illustrate just how serious the offense is.”

On October 18, 2008, the Coast Guard received a false distress call from the Holly Ridge, N.C., 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.” He then adopted a Spanish accent. When the Coast Guard responder realized it was a hoax, he 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, Medina and others had been drinking when the false calls were made.

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

Pursuant to their written plea agreements, each defendant will pay restitution to the Coast Guard for all search and rescue costs associated with the various hoax calls attributable to them individually. Fisher agreement to pay $234,111.00, Medina agreed to pay $233.48, and Yates agreed to pay $506.80.

Mr. Holding stated, “It is at great expense that false distress phone calls are made, not only wasting taxpayer money, but also diverting scarce resources that might have been legitimately needed elsewhere and by needlessly endangering the lives of those performing their duties to protect, assist and serve those in need.”

At sentencing, Fisher faces up to five years imprisonment followed by up to three years of supervised release and a fine of up to $250,000. Yates and Medina each face up to six years imprisonment followed by up to two years supervised release and a fine of up to $250,000.

Investigation of this case was conducted by the United States 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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