Local News

Three plead guilty to making false distress calls to Coast Guard

Posted March 13, 2010 1:46 p.m. EST
Updated March 13, 2010 2:03 p.m. EST

— Three North Carolina men pleaded guilty in federal court Friday to making false distress calls to the U.S. Coast Guard.

Jeremy C. Fisher, 25, of Holly Ridge, pleaded guilty to conspiring to make false distress messages. William H. Yates, 22, of Sneads Ferry, and Steven G. Medina, of Onslow County, each pleaded guilty to one count each of aiding and abetting false distress messages.

“It is at great expense that false distress phone calls are made," U.S. Attorney George E.B. Holding said, "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."

Prosecutors said that investigation revealed that Fisher had made at least 22 false distress calls, Yates had made at least two, and Medina had helped make at least one.

The three were drinking Oct. 18, 2008, prosecutors said, when Fisher called the Coast Guard, saying, "Mayday" and claiming that his vessel was taking on water with six people on board. When the Coast Guard responder realized it was a hoax, Fisher adopted a Spanish accent and responded with a string of profanities, prosecutors said.

The men agreed to pay restitution for the search-and-rescue costs stemming from the hoax calls they made. Fisher agreed to pay $234,111.00, Medina $233.48, and Yates $506.80.

Fisher faces up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. Yates and Medina both face up to six years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.

"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," Rear Adm. Wayne Justice, Coast Guard 5th District commander, said in a statement Saturday.

"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."