Florida Couple Pleads Guilty to Scheme to Evade $42 Million in Duties for Illegally Importing and Selling Plywood
WASHINGTON – A Miami-based ship surveyor was sentenced today for lying to the Coast Guard and for falsely certifying that inspections had been performed on two ships, which were designed to ensure that the ships were seaworthy and did not pose a threat to the crew or the marine environment, announced Ignacia S. Moreno, Assistant Attorney General for the Environment and Natural Resources Division at the Department of Justice, Wifredo A. Ferrer, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, Rear Admiral William D. Baumgartner, 7th Coast Guard District Commander, and Jonathan Sall, U.S. Coast Guard Investigative Service Special Agent in Charge.
Alejandro Gonzalez, 60, of Miami-Dade County, Fla., was sentenced in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida to 21 months in prison.
On May 24, 2012, a federal jury found Gonzalez guilty of lying to a Coast Guard inspector and a federal agent about the drydocking of the M/V Cala Galdana, a 68-meter cargo vessel, in San Juan, Puerto Rico, in April 2009 and December 2009.
Coast Guard inspectors in San Juan discovered the vessel taking on water in August of 2008 and requested the last drydocking of the vessel. Gonzalez concocted a false story about the vessel being drydocked in Colombia in 2006 when he knew it was not. Gonzalez repeatedly claimed the vessel had been drydocked in Cartegena, Colombia, in March of 2006, while evidence at the trial proved conclusively that the vessel was never in Colombia during 2006.
Gonzalez was also convicted of falsifying documents for the M/V Cosette, a 92-meter cargo vessel. As the surveyor on behalf of Bolivia, Gonzalez certified the ship as safe for sea while the vessel was docked in Fort Pierce, Fla., in November 2009. When the vessel shortly thereafter arrived in New York City harbor, Coast Guard inspectors discovered exhaust and fuel pouring into the engine room, endangering the crew and the ship. For his action, Gonzalez was convicted of making a false statement and obstructing a Coast Guard Port State Control examination.
“Mr. Gonzalez is being held accountable today for making false statements and certifications to Coast Guard inspectors whose job it is to ensure the safety of ships at sea,” said Assistant Attorney General Moreno. “Ship surveyors serve a crucial public safety role, and when they abdicate their responsibility they put mariners in danger and our nation's waters at risk of contamination. Mr. Gonzalez's prosecution should send a message that we will not tolerate this type of egregious behavior.”
“Surveyors are responsible for the safety of the ships they inspect. When they fail to do their jobs properly, lives are put at risk,” said U.S. Attorney Ferrer. “Today’s sentence should remind those few surveyors who need reminding of the great responsibility that they carry and the consequences of their actions.”
The prosecution was handled by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jaime Raich and Trial Attorney Kenneth Nelson, of the Environmental Crimes Section of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.