Jan. 23, 2004 – A St. Thomas fisherman returned home from Tortola late Thursday $1,000 poorer after a losing day in court that stemmed from a brush with British Virgin Islands fisheries officers.
Gregory Ledee, 44, was fined $1,000 for fishing without a license or boat registration in B.V.I. waters. Magistrate Gail Charles ordered him to pay the fine by the end of January, or spend a month in prison.
Ledee pleaded guilty to the charges, but said he mistakenly thought he was fishing in U.S. waters at the time of his arrest.
In October, Charles fined two other St. Thomas fishermen, brothers Rick and Jason Berry, $11,000 and ordered confiscation of their boat worth an estimated $25,000, after they pleaded guilty to similar charges. (See "B.V.I. fines 2 fishermen $11K and takes their boat".)
Ledee and Kenneth Laplace, 33, also of St. Thomas, were fishing seven nautical miles north of Little Tobago early Wednesday morning when they were arrested by a joint police and fisheries patrol, according to a statement read in the Road Town Magistrate's Court by Sgt. Jefferson Knight. Their boat, Great White, was seized but was returned to them on Thursday after Charles chose not to order it confiscated as part of their punishment.
Initially charges were filed jointly against Ledee and Laplace. However, Laplace's name was deleted from the complaints during Thursday afternoon's court hearing because of mistakes in the drafting of the charges.
Ledee told Charles that he had thought he was fishing in U.S. waters. "I'm fishing there four years, and we never had a problem," he said. "I thought I was in American waters all the time."
B.V.I. police officials said the men were four miles within B.V.I. territorial waters when they were arrested. They spent Wednesday night in police custody in Road Town.
By law, Charles could have imposed a fine of up to $500,000. But she said Ledee's explanation seemed honest and understandable. "I have no reason to doubt your explanation. You were slightly off center," she said, warning him not to let it happen again.
"Obviously, the B.V.I. does not want to be depleted of its lobster and fish," she added.
The punishment meted out three months earlier to the Berry brothers — more than a year after their arrest — caused an outcry in the U.S. Virgin Islands, particularly on St. Thomas, with Delegate Donna M. Christensen and Sen. Lorraine Berry among those calling for reconsideration. Berry also was in the forefront of organizing a fund-raiser to help the brothers, who are not related to her family.
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