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DETROIT – A Detroit man pleaded guilty yesterday to a felony charge of willfully and knowingly violating the terms of a United States Coast Guard Order to cease all commercial operation of his pleasure boat until properly licensed and inspected, announced United States Attorney Dawn N. Ison.
Ison was joined in the announcement by United States Coast Guard Captain Richard P. Armstrong, Captain of the Port, Detroit, and Acting Special Agent in Charge Josh Packer of the Coast Guard Investigative Service Central Field Office.
Benjamin Michael Jones, 39, entered his guilty plea this afternoon, before United States District Judge Judith E. Levy.
According to court records, in June of 2021, the Coast Guard issued a Captain of the Port Order to Jones, ordering him to cease all commercial operations until fully compliant with the applicable laws and regulations for carrying passengers for hire. On or about August 10, 2021, Jones willfully and knowingly violated the terms of that Order by operating his 40’ boat, known as “PWR TOWER,” on Lake St. Clair, while carrying passengers for hire, and without having complied with the applicable Coast Guard licensing regulations and inspection requirements. During that illegal voyage, the “PWR TOWER” caught fire with its passengers on board. Jones’s passengers were rescued, and the “PWR TOWER” was towed to shore by the Coast Guard.
“The maritime laws and regulations are designed to ensure that the commercial operation of vessels on the waters of the United States is conducted safely. My office will continue to prosecute people like Jones, who knowingly and willfully violate the maritime laws and regulations and endanger the safety of others,” U.S. Attorney Ison said.
"The guilty plea in this incident highlights the Coast Guard’s unwavering dedication to maintaining maritime safety and cracking down on illegal charter operations,” said United States Coast Guard Captain Richard P. Armstrong, Captain of the Port, Detroit. “Every action we take is aimed at safeguarding the boating public from potential hazards. This case serves as a resounding reminder that we will continue to uphold maritime laws, ensuring that our waterways remain safe and enjoyable for all.”
“Mr. Jones’ repeated actions demonstrated blatant disregard for the Coast Guard’s policies and authority, which placed unsuspecting passengers at risk. This guilty plea demonstrates the aggressive posture the Coast Guard Investigative Service and U.S. Attorney’s Office have taken in the prosecution of illegal charter operations,” said Josh Packer, Acting Special Agent in Charge, Coast Guard Investigative Service, Central Field Office.
The sentencing hearing is set for February 27, 2024 at 2:30pm, at which Jones faces a statutory maximum penalty of 6 years imprisonment.
This case was investigated by the U.S. Coast Guard and the Coast Guard Investigative Service. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Timothy J. Wyse and Special Assistant United States Attorney Corinne M. Lambert.