Virginia man sentenced to 14 months in prison for false distress report

Lady Justice 300PORTSMOUTH, Va. — A Smithfield man was sentenced Monday in U.S. Federal Court in Newport News for falsifying statements to law enforcement officers in 2014, which launched a search and rescue operation involving multiple agencies.

Bryan Serafini, 43, was sentenced to 14 months incarceration, three years supervised probation and full restitution of $117,913 in costs associated with the search.

Serafini was discovered when he violated a security zone and was found intoxicated aboard a recreational vessel May 11, 2014. He told law enforcement officers the boat’s owner was overboard in an attempt to conceal that he had actually stolen the watercraft. The owner was never aboard with Serafini.

His false statement prompted a search involving personnel and assets from Coast Guard Sector Hampton Roads, Newport News Police Department and Virginia Marine Resources Commission.

“Minimizing the loss of life or injury by rendering aid to persons in distress in the maritime environment is a Coast Guard priority,” said Capt. Jeff Thomas, Chief of Response for the Coast Guard 5th District. “The harsh reality of hoax distress calls is that every call received by the Coast Guard is treated as if it is a real distress case.  False distress calls incur significant cost to the public by obligating resources and vast amounts of tax payer dollars.  In addition, false distress calls divert limited resources to respond to someone in distress who does not exist, placing both responders and potentially other mariners at risk. Through the vigilance of the public, our strong partnerships with the Department of Justice, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and our Coast Guard Investigative Service, this case affirms our collective commitment to holding accountable those individuals who make hoax calls or false statements.”

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