An Anchorage jury has returned with a split verdict for a fisherman accused of falsely reporting his black cod or sablefish catches from the Gulf of Alaska. The man was a fishing companion of Arne Fuglvog, the disgraced former Highliner of the Year who was also convicted of a similar charge.
Freddie Joe Hankins was acquitted of making a false statement and making a false Individual Fishing Quota landing report for black cod caught in April 2007. But he was convicted in U.S. District Court in Anchorage last Wednesday on two identical charges for a landing made in May 2007.
“Yeah, it’s very puzzling to me,” said Hankins attorney David Smith. He believes the evidence was more substantial on the charges that his client was acquitted, and weaker for the charges on which he was convicted.
Federal fisheries investigators alleged in amended charging documents that starting in September 2006 and until late May 2007 that Hankins harvested about 47,800 pounds of black cod. They were counted toward Hankins’ Individual Fishing Quota for the Central Gulf of Alaska area, when the fish were actually caught in the Western Yakutat area.
The now-47-year old Hankins of Cove, Oregon was on-board the Petersburg-based fishing vessel Kamilar. Prosecutors allege the navigational computer indicated that the Kamilar fished in the West Yakutat area while the logbook and IFQ landing reports showed the black cod was caught in the Central Gulf.
That fish allegedly had an ex-vessel value of over $222,000 when it was landed in Yakutat and before it was transported across state lines to Seattle.
Charges related to 6,300 pounds landed in September 2006 were dropped by prosecutors just before start of the eight-day trial on July 23rd.
Investigators say they interviewed Hankins in July 2009 and he told them that the IFQ program did not consider historic fishing grounds when an arbitrary line was drawn. Hankins allegedly said “the fish don’t give a damn where the line is.”
Hankins was a former associate of Arne Fuglvog, the former North Pacific Fishery Management Council member and U.S. Senate fisheries aide. Kamilar Incorporated at one point featured Fuglvog as half-owner. State business records indicate that Cynthia Fuglvog became full owner of the company sometime before April 2007.
Fuglvog captained the boat during the trips in starting in late August 2006 with IFQ holder Hankins on board. Hankins took over as captain later in 2006. But Hankins’ attorney David Smith disputes the reliability of GPS data taken from the Kamilar’s navigational computer.
“The GPS coordinate data that the government relied upon was inconsistent and would’ve required the Kamilar to travel at speeds that were unrealistic,” said Smith. He also wondered whether the government’s expert witness on GPS changed his opinion and whether prosecutors were entirely forthcoming with evidence during the discovery process.
Taking the stand was Hankins himself who Smith says denied fishing illegally. Fuglvog also appeared as a witness for the prosecution.
Smith said Fuglvog appeared very tan on the stand. He doubted that Fuglvog had been held in a maximum security facility.
Fuglvog, convicted of falsifying his own fishing records, was sentenced in February to serve five months in federal prison. He was also fined $50,000 and ordered to pay $100,000 in a community service payment to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. He was also ordered to take out an advertisement apologizing for his actions in National Fisherman magazine and be on supervised release for a year. Transcripts of that sentencing hearing indicate that Fuglvog was cooperating with investigators in another then-unspecified case.
“So, he cut his sentence in half and gets out August 11th by appearing and testifying against my client,” said Smith.
Fuglvog is scheduled for release from prison this Saturday. The Associated Press reports that he’s been serving time at a minimum security camp in Virginia.
The prosecutor in the Hankins case, Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Cooper, declined to comment or answer questions about the trial for this story. But a statement put out by the U.S. Attorney’s office in Anchorage Friday says Hankins faces as much as five years in prison and a $250,000 fine when he’s sentenced October 12th.
Smith said they’ll seek a judgment of acquittal as well as possibly appeal the conviction.