Sport fishing 'shtick' nets probation term for charter boat operator
BY VANESSA BLUM | South Florida Sun-Sentinel
10:44 PM EDT, May 22, 2008
FORT LAUDERDALE - Rejecting a call for harsher punishment, a federal judge on Thursday ordered the owner of a South Florida charter fishing business to serve five years' probation for not reporting sailfish reeled in by customers and killing undersized fish.
Stanley Saffan, 58, of Miami Beach, who pleaded guilty to those charges in February, must also pay $210,000 in financial penalties, forfeit one of his Therapy IV boats to the federal government and perform 500 hours of community service work.
A crowd of relatives and supporters who turned out for Saffan's two-day hearing showed relief at the sentence, which was well below the 18 to 24 months' prison term sought by federal prosecutors.
U.S. District Judge William Zloch barred Saffan, who runs sport fishing charters out of Baker's Haulover Inlet in North Miami Beach, from serving as captain of a vessel during his probation
Prosecutor Thomas Watts-Fitzgerald accused Saffan and four employees of needlessly killing more than 70 undersized sailfish as part of a "scammer's shtick" to coerce anglers to have the fish mounted.
The men, who received lucrative commissions for steering business to Gray Taxidermy Inc. of Pompano Beach, claimed pieces of the actual fish would be used to make the trophy, Watts-Fitzgerald alleged. In reality, customers received fiberglass replicas made from molds.
Watts-Fitzgerald acknowledged high pressure sales tactics are commonplace in the charter industry. "That doesn't excuse it," he said.
But defense attorney Richard Sharpstein said Saffan was a generous man with a deep love for the ocean and sea creatures. Saffan planted palm trees near the dock, helped rescue injured pelicans, and took out wounded Iraq war veterans on his boats, Sharpstein said.
In 40 years working fishing charters, Saffan had no previous citations, Sharpstein said.
As part of his sentence, Saffan must pay $75,000 in retribution to customers who purchased mounts based on false statements from the crew. The remaining financial penalties, including a $35,000 personal fine, a $50,000 corporate fine, and $50,000 forfeited in place of his second fishing boat, will be directed to a federal fund for fishery conservation.
Florida regulations require all sailfish, marlin and swordfish to be reported to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and prohibit the harvesting of any fish measuring less than 63 inches from the lower jaw to the fork of the tail. Adult sailfish typically measure 68 to 90 inches.
Zloch previously sentenced Adam Augusto, 36, and Ralph Pegram, 44, to one year and one day in prison for killing undersized fish. Both men received harsher punishment than Saffan because of prior criminal convictions. Zloch sentenced Brian Schick, 33, to three years' probation. Sentencing for Sean Lang, 42, is set for today.
Vanessa Blum can be reached at email@example.com or 954-356-4605