Man fined $29,000 for distress hoax
A 19-year-old Ewa man who made a false distress call to the U.S. Coast Guard will have to pay $29,000 for the cost incurred in the search and must suffer the consequences of having a federal felony conviction on his record.
U.S. District Judge Susan Mollway sentenced Justin J. Aquino on Monday to five years' probation and ordered him to perform 100 hours of community service.
But Aquino, who has no prior adult record, also will be prevented from joining the military, a longtime goal of his.
"Now with a felony conviction, he can't do that," said First Assistant Federal Defender Alexander Silvert. "It was clearly a senseless childhood act and if he had to do it all over again, it would never have happened."
This is the second case in 10 months in which the government has successfully prosecuted someone for making a false distress call, said Marsha Delaney, Coast Guard spokeswoman.
In September, a federal judge ordered Christine Stark of Santa Cruz, Calif., to pay $20,000 in fines and restitution for making a false distress call in August 2003.
"Once is too often when it happens," Delaney said.
Not only are these bogus calls a waste of taxpayer money, they also put rescue crews at risk and prevent personnel and craft from responding to real rescues, she said. "We might not be ready for a real one."
Aquino was accused of making a distress call from the vessel Tropical Splash, moored at Keehi Boat Harbor on March 8, 2006. He reported that while out sailing, he had witnessed the Angry Beaver 1 sinking quickly with two people aboard 12 miles south of Honolulu Harbor, according to an indictment.
The Coast Guard launched two helicopters and two rescue boats to search, only to learn later that neither Aquino nor the Angry Beaver 1 had left Keehi Boat Harbor that day.
Aquino pleaded guilty to a charge of making a false distress call in January.
"The reason why we go after them is to get the word out that we will be prosecuting to the fullest extent anyone who perpetuates a hoax like this one," said Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul T. Markland, who argued for incarceration.
When asked why he did it, Aquino, who was 18 at the time, told Coast Guard investigators that "he was bored," Markland said.