Andrew Cohen, federal fisheries' law enforcement agent in charge of the Northeast region, whose efforts to shutdown the Gloucester Seafood Display Auction sparked an inspector general's probe bringing revelations of an agency without standards or controls, is reportedly moving to a new position.
Unofficial sources Wednesday said Cohen was being reassigned to the office of Alan Risenhoover, acting director of law enforcement. Cohen said, "I may be" changing jobs.
Decorated by NOAA in 2007 with the "Administrator's Award" and quickly promoted up the chain of command, he began his law enforcement career as a national park ranger, and was a polarizing figure during the years he was in charge of investigations along much of the Atlantic coast.
Risenhoover, who had no law enforcement experience and instead had been director of sustainable fisheries, was put into the director's office in March after Dale J. Jones, the longtime chief of fisheries police and Cohen's direct superior, was put on paid administrative leave — unannounced at the time — after sworn assertions of misuse of the fund of fines from fishing interests and official document shredding by Jones.
Cohen and his team of roughly a half dozen agents at the Gloucester office remain under scrutiny by investigators for U.S. Commerce Department Inspector General Todd Zinser.
IG investigators have been in Gloucester for extended periods this summer assigned to a detailed re-examination of the campaign waged under Cohen's command against the auction, linchpin of the seaport economy here and the No. 1 platform for the sale of seafood from the Gulf of Maine.
Risenhoover did not return phone calls, and after giving the semi-confirmation to the Times in a brief telephone conversation, Cohen did not call back as he had promised to discuss the change further.
For his admitted efforts at "targeting" suspect violators of the Magnuson-Stevens Act and a campaign in June 2009 to tarnish the reputation of the auction with a public relations attack leaked to The Boston Globe, Cohen became public enemy No. 1 in Gloucester's fishing community.
In a Globe interview sparked by Cohen's leaked advance notice of an effort to shutdown the auction, he said of the auction: "They are a problem which is why we are prosecuting them."
Larry Ciulla, president of the auction, declined to comment on Cohen's employment situation.
But Rep. Ann-Margaret Ferrante, who helped launch the industry uprising against NOAA law enforcement excesses, said, "It appears there's now two ways that NOAA deals with alleged wrongdoing — a paid 'vacation' for Dale Jones and a new assignment for Andy Cohen."
The public relations campaign also earned Cohen a stern lecture from a federal judge, who noted the American legal tradition of allowing cases to settle before attempting to impose punishment.
At the time, the business owned by the Ciulla family was fighting a shutdown order based on NOAA's interpretation of a tangled legal struggle dating back nearly a decade.
The events included an alleged forced entry to the business, according to a police report filed by auction employees and a mass raid conducted by Cohen's armed agents weeks later in late 2006.
Months after the leak and the shutdown order, on the eve of a Congressional oversight subcommittee hearing into the misdeeds of NOAA law enforcement, the auction settled three intertwined cases by paying a small fine but remained clear of any liability or admissions.
A law enforcement forum in Gloucester at NOAA's regional offices scheduled in the spring to attempt to quell outrage at the IG's findings was cancelled after Mayor Carolyn Kirk suggested the community boycott the event to protest the announced featured roles of Cohen and Charles Juliand, who heads the regional Office of General Counsel for Enforcement and Litigation.
Cohen had been in charge of the agents — police investigators — of the northeast division of the Office of Law Enforcement of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration since 2004.
During that period, according to the IG's January report, fishing interests in the northeast region, Maine through the Carolinas, were assessed fines five times greater than other regions' charged for similar violations.
An additional IG's report this summer revealed that fines collected into an Asset Forfeiture Fund, close to $100 million over a 41/2 year period through January 2009, were used as if the fund was an uncontrolled debit account.
NOAA's Office of Law Enforcement used the fund to acquire more vehicles than it had agents.
According to the IG, the ocean police force had 202 vehicles and 172 agents. The fund was also used for extensive case-unrelated overseas travel.
Cohen was among the 22 members of the U.S. delegation that spent $109,000 charged to the fund on a five day trip to Trondheim, Norway, in 2008 that was cited by the IG as an example of travel that was not case related or a justifiable use of the fund's proceeds.
Cohen has been at NOAA for 23 years and was promoted to agent in charge by Dale Jones, then the director of law enforcement.
Both Cohen's and Jones' reputations have suffered in the spate of revelations around the national probe into NOAA law enforcement excesses by the U.S. Commerce Department inspector general.
Jones was put on administrative leave last spring, still paid at the $158,000 a year level.
With the auction appealing the shutdown order trumpeted in a press release distributed by Cohen and given to the Globe hours before the auction was notified of the attempted action, U.S. District Judge Douglas Woodlock, to whom the matter had been appealed after the underlying penalty was affirmed by NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco, saw miscarriage of justice and demanded sworn statements from Cohen and the agents reporting to him.
Woodlock enjoined NOAA from taking any action against the auction while its appeal was pending.
NOAA issued no followup press release updating and correcting the one Cohen slipped to the Globe and later the rest of the press corps.
State Sen. Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester, described the record created by the affidavits as proving the efforts to harm the auction were "calculated and intentional."
Kirk said, "It is clear to me upon reading Special Agent Cohen's affidavit that manipulation of the media is an important part of NOAA's strategy in dealing with the Gloucester Seafood Display Auction.
"When I read the Boston Globe stories at the time, I couldn't believe how one-sided the coverage was," she added. "I applaud the judge for looking into this further."
The IG was called in by Lubchenco shortly after the showdown in federal court that backed the auction.
Her hand was also forced by letters from the Massachusetts legislative leadership and the Congressional and Senate delegations.
Richard Gaines can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3564 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.