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February 18, 2012

NOAA agents used boat purchased with fines from fishermen for fun

Using money from fines paid by fishermen, the NOAA law enforcement office in Seattle evaded procurement procedures to acquire a luxury undercover cabin boat that was used, misused and abused as a pleasure craft by unidentified personnel — including at least one agent, his wife and friends — according to a new, detailed report from the U.S. Commerce Department's inspector general.

The report was obtained under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act by Massachusetts lawmakers U.S. Sen. Scott Brown and Congressman John Tierney.

The IG's report found that more than $300,000 was taken from the Asset Forfeiture Fund — built upon fines paid by fishermen for violations of the Manguson-Stevens, Endangered Species and Marine Mammal Protection acts — to pay for the 35-foot Boston Whaler in 2008, while another $9,400 was charged to the forfeiture fund for moorage, fuel and maintenance.

The report states that an individual or individuals "violated agency policy and ethical standards" by using the boat for partying and pleasure cruises around Puget Sound. The case was instigated by a whistleblower, the inspector general's report states.

The new report contains several examples of abuse and even NOAA fumbling, suggested by headings in the report that include:

Engine failure (explosion) attributable to operator error (Aug. 22, 2008).

"Wife and friend aboard for initial launch, running out of fuel in canal," and "trip across Puget Sound to Remerton restaurant (June 12, 2008)."

"Trip to Poulsbo restaurant and excursion with friends to Gig Harbor restaurant (Aug. 5, 2008)."

"Stranded with wife in Puget Sound en route to restaurant (Aug. 8, 2008)."

"Following undercover vessel engine failure en route to Blaine restaurant, substitute Office of Law Enforcement marked vessel used for patrol and trip to Friday Harbor restaurant with subordinate agent's parents aboard."

The IG's report also details countless violations of procurement procedures as well as "dishonest conduct prejudicial to the government, conduct demonstrating untrustworthiness or unreliability."

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