Tour operator gets jail time for cheating employees

Posted: Thursday, July 13, 2000

Martin ``Ben'' Goenett, owner of Northgate Tours and Cruises, Immaculate Cleaning and Island Waterways, has become the first person ever sentenced to jail in Alaska for violating state wage and hour laws.

``This is new ground for us, a precedent-setting situation,'' said Terri Begley-Allen, an investigator with the state Department of Labor's Juneau office

Begley-Allen described Goenett as a charmer who, over the telephone, could convince almost anyone of almost anything.

Goenett frequently hired Juneau teens 15 to 17, and underpaid -- or didn't pay -- them, Begley-Allen said.

``His youngest victim was 15; he had him working for both Northgate and Island Waterways -- in the office, doing sales, down on the docks doing sales and computer work. Our ultimate goal is to get the employees paid,'' she said.

Goenett denied wrongdoing, closed his Juneau businesses without notice last August and disappeared. Half a dozen tourists complained to the Juneau Police Department that he accepted their checks or charged their credit cards to pay for tours by other companies; however, when they reported for the tours, the companies did not have any record of deposits being made. The tourists included two women from New Zealand, making this alleged international fraud.

Because the state Department of Labor is limited in its jurisdiction, it focused on local crimes rather than what allegedly went on across state lines, Begley-Allen said. Police passed the evidence of alleged credit card fraud on to the FBI.

Charged by the Department of Labor with 97 separate labor law violations, Goenett pleaded guilty to 10 counts.

On July 6, Goenett was sentenced by Judge Peter Froehlich in Juneau District Court to 510 days in jail with 494 days suspended. Froehlich ordered he perform 80 hours of community service. He was also fined $5,750 with $4,000 suspended. Froehlich also ordered Goenett to pay restitution to former employees. The amount of restitution will be determined at a Sept. 12 hearing. Goenett was placed on three years probation.

Goenett is serving time at Cordova Center, an Anchorage half-way house, and could not be reached for comment.

``This is the first time the court has seen fit to allow jail time for wage and hour violations,'' said Al Dwyer, director of state labor standards and safety. ``We hope it starts a trend. This should serve as a deterrent and a reminder that blatant disregard for Alaska's wage and hour laws has serious criminal penalties.''

Juneau FBI agent Dave Gelious said he would be meeting with police Sgt. Kevin Siska on Friday to look over the evidence regarding alleged credit card fraud.

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