The jury's decision came after about two hours of deliberations, which got unde rway after U.S. District Court Judge Terrence Boyle threw out charges that Gaskill helped plan and execute the illegal dredging in May 2004 to clear the way for a ferry route.
Boyle had blasted government attorneys outside of the jury's presence, calling their "preposterous" arguments of conspiracy "as weak and thin as water," and threatening to throw out the remaining charges.
"To let a case go to the jury where there is no proof to convict beyond a reasonable doubt is wrong," Boyle said.
The dredging case surfaced in 2004 as ferry workers rushed to prepare passenger service to connect mainland Currituck County and Corolla on the northern Outer Banks. The ferry would have cut the commuting time for students riding a school bus from the remote town.
Bill Moore, the former superintendent of dredging and maintenance, and three other division workers pleaded guilty last year to the illegal prop-washing, performed without proper federal and state permits.
Gaskill said at first he only knew of accidental damage to the waterway's floor inflicted as the workers surveyed the proposed path of the ferry. Moore testified that he told Gaskill of the sculpted channel the day he completed the work.
"The defendant knew that this wasn't an accident," said U.S. Assistant Attorney Banu Rangarajan.
Rangarajan also said that Gaskill later provided false answers to investigators in an attempt to cover up the plan to carve a 6-foot-deep pathway across the basin.
Thomas Manning, Gaskill's attorney, contended that the ferry chief had no knowledge of the incident, and instead relied on information from Moore when communicating with federal investigators.
"Of course the statement is incorrect ... but did Jerry know that it was untrue?" asked Manning, who later characterized Gaskill's reliance on Moore an innocent mistake with no evil intention.
Gaskill had served as head of the ferry system for 13 years until his indictment earlier this year.
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