The guilty plea extended by a former Connecticut fisherman for essentially lying to a U.S. Commerce Department's special investigator in an attempt to get reimbursement for fines he had paid to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for fishery violations is a good thing.
Indeed, the actions of Bruce Fitzsimmons, 54, of Canterbury, Conn., who admitted knowingly and willfully making a false and fraudulent statement to Special Judicial Master Charles B. Swartwood III — the retired judge commissioned by the inspector general to probe deeper into excessive NOAA enforcement abuses by the foisted on fishermen — are the sort that can, if allowed to stand, give all fishermen a bad name.
To that end, the Justice Department's pursuit of the case against Fitzsimmons vouches for the clear credibility of the other fishermen and waterfront business owners who also spoke with Swartwood and, previously, provided Inspector General Todd Zinser the evidence he used to spotlight the wrongdoing on the past of former NOAA top cop Dale Jones and others.
But the Justice Department also owes answers on why it is not also pursuing similar charges against at least one NOAA enforcement agent who has also been found by Zinser to have made false statements during a probe into the agency's misuse of a luxury pleasure boat out of NOAA's Seattle office.
While the IG's recent written report asserts that the agent was dishonest with investigators, that agent has not been fired or criminally prosecuted as has Fitzsimmons. And then there's Jones, who continues to work for NOAA in a $155,000-a-year, taxpayer-funded analyst's job despite being cited by Zinser for allowing the misuse of the agency's Asset Forfeiture Fund and endorsing the shredding of documents while the IG's probe was in full swing.
Time and again, NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco has made it abundantly clear that she believes she and her agency are — as agents here once bragged — "accountable to no one." And the Obama administration seems content to let her get away with that perception, and a contempt for Congress that reached its peak when she walked out on early on a hearing convened by U.S. Sen. John Kerry last summer to make a lobbying pitch to the editorial board of The Boston Globe.
While it is right to press charges against Fitzsimmons, the Justice Department cannot play into Lubchenco's perception that she and her agents are above the law. Sadly, that's precisely the message that's been delivered to date.