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February 17, 2012

Update: Brown, Tierney decry NOAA 'pleasure' boat bought with fines

Using money from fines paid by fishermen, the NOAA law enforcement office in Seattle manipulated procurement procedures to acquire a luxury undercover cabin boat that was used 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.

According to the report, More than $300,000 was taken from the Asset Forfeiture Fund, made up of fines paid by fishermen for violations of the Manguson-Stevens Fisheries Conservation and Management Act, to pay for the 35-foot Boston Whaler in 2008, and another $9,400 was charged to the forfeiture fund for moorage, fuel and maintenance.

The report drew immediate reaction today in Congress, where Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown briefed the Senate saying, “NOAA had no reasonable official use for this boat.”

"The sad truth is,” Brown said, “it was a fishermen funded party boat for bureaucrats.”

The abuse of the fund to acquire the boat was first documented publicly in a July 2010 report by Inspector General Todd Zinser that focused heavily on the excessive fines and other NOAA enforcement abuses carried out against fishermen and waterfront businesses in Gloucester and around the Northeast. But details of the purchase and misuse of the boat were only released to members of Congress this week after the filing of U.S. Freedom of Information Act requests.

The requesting members, Brown and Congressman Rep. John Tierney, who represents Cape Ann, released the 34-page report to the Times late Thursday. The initial mention of the boat’s purchase as an example of abuse of the AFF did not indicate which region of NOAA law enforcement had been responsible.

“Not only should this luxury vessel never have been purchased by NOAA,” Tierney said, “but today we learn that it was used for joyrides during the workweek and employees were inappropriately reimbursed for fuel and other costs from the Asset Forfeiture Fund — essentially right from the pockets of our fishermen.

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