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Press Release

Three Defendants Pleaded Guilty in US Coast Guard Hoax Call Case

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, District of Puerto Rico

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – Three defendants pleaded guilty to Conspiracy to Communicate a False Distress Signal and False Statements in US Coast Guard hoax call case.

Pursuant to court filings, on June 28, 2022, Harold Carrión Butter, while trying to evade local authorities regarding a domestic violence case, purposefully hid himself in an attempt to make it seem like he was swept out to sea at La Poza Del Obispo in Arecibo, Puerto Rico. Carrión Butter called his mother, Justinita Butter who, after several phone conversations with her son, called local 9-1-1. She falsely reported that her son had not been answering his phone and was missing from the beach at Poza Del Obispo in Arecibo, Puerto Rico.  Her 9-1-1 call was transferred to United States Coast Guard (USCG) Sector San Juan, which immediately began to coordinate a search and rescue operation for Carrión Butter.  Throughout that night and following two days, through multiple phone calls with Coast Guard Officers, Justinita Butter and Miriam Delgado-Serrano, made multiple false claims that Carrión Butter did not have a phone, must have been swept out to sea, and that there was no other place he could be. All these claims were made while they were both in continuous and surreptitious communication with Carrión Butter through multiple phone calls and text messages.

On July 1, 2022, Carrion Butter was discovered by local Puerto Rico police, in a location near his family home.  The USCG subsequently ended its search and rescue operation, after having diverted multiple ships, boats, and aircraft from other potential search and rescue missions and criminal-interdictions, and after having expended over $1,000,000 in assets and resources in the search.

Defendant #1 Harold Carrión Butter plead guilty to Count One of the Indictment, Conspiracy to Communicate a False Distress Signal. He was sentenced in December 2023 to time served; approximately 18 months of imprisonment served. He is currently incarcerated at the state level and facing other charges.

Justintia Butter, who was scheduled for trial beginning February 5, 2024, plead guilty on Friday, January 26. She plead guilty to Count Four which was Making a False Statement. Specifically, when USCG personnel were speaking on the phone with Ms. Butter on the morning of June 29, 2022, they asked Ms. Butter for Harold’s phone number. She told CG personnel that Harold didn’t have a phone and did not provide his number. The sentencing is scheduled for April 26, 2024.

Defendant #3 Miriam Delgado Serrano also plead guilty to Count One of the Indictment. Her sentencing is scheduled for March 1, 2024. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

“Federal, state and local authorities take all threat-to-life matters very seriously,” said W. Stephen Muldrow, U.S. Attorney for the District of Puerto Rico. “However, when individuals make false reports to law enforcement, endangering first responders, other citizens, and wasting resources, they will be prosecuted and held accountable for their criminal conduct.”

“I commend the efforts of all interagency responders who did their utmost to find Mr. Butters as well as the efforts and diligence from all the investigative authorities that led to three arrests and justice being served in this case,” said Capt. José E. Díaz, Coast Guard Sector San Juan commander.  “Hoax search and rescues cases are extremely dangerous and will not be tolerated, the consequences could be deadly, as first responders and valuable assets are placed at risk to search for survivors during a false distress alert.  A prolonged hoax search and rescue situation, like the one in this case, could easily prevent people from receiving critical emergency response and lifesaving assistance that may be required to save lives in a real emergency.”

The US Coast Guard Investigative Service investigated the case.

USCG Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Helena B. Daniel from the Transnational Organized Crime Section is prosecuting the case.


Updated February 15, 2024

Press Release Number: 2024-006