Commercial Fisherman Indicted for Alteration of Objects to Obstruct a Federal Investigation and Making False Statements
TPANAMA CITY, FLORIDA– Thomas Zachary Breeding, 29, of Panama City, Florida, has been charged by a federal grand jury with the alteration or falsification of an object to obstruct a federal investigation and two counts of making false statements to agents of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, announced United States Attorney Pamela C. Marsh, Northern District of Florida.
The indictment alleges that, on or about January 18, 2012, Breeding knowingly altered the GPS device on his fishing vessel to impede, obstruct, and influence an investigation conducted by the NOAA into his activities in The Edges Closed Area. The Edges is an area of the Gulf of Mexico closed annually to commercial and recreational fishing from January 1 to April 30 to protect the spawning season for gag grouper. Gag grouper, like other shallow and deep water groupers, red snapper and tilefish are extremely valuable and economically important species to both commercial and recreational fishermen and are managed under the Gulf of Mexico Individual Fishing Quota program.
The indictment further alleges Breeding made two false statements to NOAA. On or about January 18, 2012, Breeding is alleged to have falsely told NOAA that he was fishing in The Edges Closed Area by accident because the GPS device and plotter on his fishing vessel were inaccurate, when he knew that he intended to fish in The Edges Closed Area. Then, on or about April 4, 2012, Breeding is alleged to have falsely told NOAA that he did not alter the GPS device on his fishing vessel to cover up his intentional entry into The Edges Closed Area, when defendant’s purpose in altering the GPS and plotter on his fishing vessel was to conceal his intentional entry into The Edges Closed Area to fish.
Count One of the indictment charges Breeding with the alteration or falsification of an object to obstruct a federal investigation. If convicted on this count, Breeding faces a term of imprisonment of not more than twenty (20) years, a period of supervised release of up to five (5) years, a fine of up to $250,000, and a $100 special monetary assessment. Counts Two and Three of the indictment charge Breeding with making false statements. If convicted on these counts, Breeding faces a term of imprisonment of not more than five (5) years imprisonment, a fine of up to $250,000, a period of supervised release of up to three (3) years, and a $100 special monetary assessment on each count.
Breeding appeared today for his initial appearance and arraignment at the United States District Court in Panama City, Florida. Breeding pled not guilty to the charges and his trial was scheduled for October 21, 2013 before United States District Judge Richard Smoak.
The indictment results from an investigation by agents of NOAA, and is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Gayle Littleton.
An indictment is merely an allegation by a grand jury that a defendant has committed a violation of federal criminal law and is not evidence of guilt. All defendants are presumed innocent and entitled to a fair trial, during which it will be the government’s burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt at trial in a court of law.