Jason Maroney held his daughter in his arms as she pointed toward the flag in Courtroom 1 of the U.S. Federal Building on Tuesday afternoon minutes before he pleaded guilty before Judge Timothy Burgess on charges of violating the Lacey Act.
"At some point you have to weigh the risk and rewards against what it has done to your health and your family," Maroney said. "Should my beautiful daughter and her mother have to sacrifice? I knew what I was going to plea to and it was hard, because I have principles and they are ingrained into the fabric of my being."
The nine charges Maroney pleaded guilty to were initially felony charges of commercially purchasing halibut that was caught for subsistence purposes. The charges were changed to misdemeanors as part of his plea agreement.
Maroney is the former owner of Doc Water's restaurant, a Juneau establishment that closed in 2008.
Burgess went over the conditions of Maroney's guilty plea: 10 months of incarceration and one year of probation. He will be formally sentenced at 10 a.m. Oct. 1.
Burgess accepted Maroney's plea after asking him if he had received any threats. Maroney hesitated and people at both tables began to confer in whispered conferences.
"I was told by the federal government that they have endless resources and we are going to get you," Maroney said. "If that is a threat, then yes."
Burgess said the perceived threat Maroney would face more serious charges in this case is one that happens all the time and is a different matter than some other type of threat. He asked if another type of threat had been made against him, which Maroney answered "no."
The U.S. attorney's office initially charged Maroney and David Skrzynski, who held a valid Subsistence Halibut Registration Certificate card which allowed him to fish for halibut for subsistence, but not for commercial sale, had conspired to sell halibut intended for subsistence commercially between July, 2005 and March, 2008.
Skrzynski pleaded guilty previously and will be sentenced Oct.1. Part of his plea deal allowed him to not forfeit his fishing vessel.
Maroney's attorney Steven Wells said after the trial it was always wise if you can take the chance to avoid a felony.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Bryan Schroder stated what had to be proven in trial was if Maroney had knowledge that the halibut was harvested illegally.
"Fishermen have a responsibility (to) understand the regulations," Schroder said. "It would have been a little more difficult to prove with someone who is a restaurant owner, so we believed it was an appropriate charge. There is a lesser standard of knowledge in the misdemeanor and we felt that was an appropriate charge."
Schroder also said he was not aware of any other similar cases in the Alaska district concerning the Lacey Act. He said the point the federal government wanted to make in the case was there is responsibility all around. If the restaurant owner is involved, they are the ones creating the market and they have a responsibility. Whether it is a greater or lesser responsibility is for others to decide, he said.
"We obviously take very seriously protecting the fishery in Alaska ... even in a fishing community we understand that to protect the fishery so there is a resource out there for all our fishermen to catch in years to come we have to manage it, and part of that management is enforcement," Schroder said. "If you don't have enforcement, the management doesn't do any good."
Schroder said he could not discuss how the federal government learned of Maroney's activities, or the investigation efforts behind the prosecution.
Maroney said he was fingered by two disgruntled employees fired just before the initial search by federal agents.
Maroney works part-time on a contract basis for the Juneau Empire.
Contact Klas Stolpe at email@example.com.
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