Former New Bedford fisherman Larry Yacubian, whose maltreatment by federal fisheries police brought a Cabinet-level apology and $400,000 in reparations after the wrongs were exposed and documented by a special judicial master, announced Monday that he is suing the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in U.S. District Court in Boston. He is seeking $15 million in damages from the agency.
“There’s a common thread from my case to cases from Maine to North Carolina and down to Florida,” said Yacubian in a telephone interview. “It was like watching a Punch and Judy show. We saw what was happening to us, but we didn’t know what was happening behind the curtain.”
Yacubian said the report on his case by Special Master Charles B. Swartwood III brought to light the lure of money to NOAA agents and litigators, serving as a motive for making cases and demanding excessive settlements of regulatory violations, facts brought to light by the inspector general for Commerce Department, which oversees NOAA.
“In my case, (Swartwood) concluded the case was mostly about money,” Yacubian said. Gary Locke, then the Commerce secretary, now ambassador to China, and NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco “were kicking and screaming to avoid” releasing Swartwood’s report which finally was published, heavily redacted, in May 2011, he added.
“Nothing has changed. Their bread and butter is not being accountable for anything, which is the reason we filed this suit,” Yacubian concluded.
A second report on more than 60 additional cases was filed by Swartwood in late winter or early spring but has not been released.
Yacubian, who moved to Florida in 2004 after his wife sold the family farm and he lost his business, boat and licence to fish in the justice miscarried against him by NOAA agents and litigators, is represented in the civil suit by Gloucester resident Paul Muniz of the Boston firm Burns & Levenson and the Washington firm Hunton & Williams.
The filing date was July 30, following the denial by the Commerce Department, NOAA’s parent, of Yacubian’s administrative claim for damages. Commerce took no action for six months after the claim was submitted, triggering an automatic denial, and did not respond to invitations to comment.
The federal court filing served as a lightning rod for congressional anger at NOAA’s intransigence on multiple fronts.
Members of the Massachusetts delegation have taken turns urging NOAA to release a second report filed by Swartwood no later than March, responding to Gov. Deval Patrick’s request for a fisheries disaster declaration, which was submitted last November and punish NOAA officials responsible for taking vindictive and predatory action against fishermen.
“Mr. Yacubian’s case underscores the detrimental effects that mistreatment by NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement has had on our local fishermen,” said Congressman John Tierney, whose district includes Cape Ann. “It is ridiculous that Mr. Yacubian is still being forced to fight for fair compensation.”
The agents and litigators who ruined Yacubian’s fishing business and life in New Bedford were based in the NOAA’s Northeast Regional Office in Gloucester. Since the first Swartwood report, they have all been transferred, but according to private briefings by Commerce for U.S. Sens. John Kerry and Scott Brown who demanded them, no figure involved in the scandal has been fired or punished.
“It is an embarrassment to the U.S. government that Larry Yacubian has to return to the legal system to receive fair compensation,” said Congressman Barney Frank, whose district includes the port of New Bedford.
“Larry Yacubian lost his home and business because NOAA abused their power and was more motivated by money than justice,” said U.S. Sen. Scott Brown. “NOAA’s outrageous conduct in this case continues today with Dr. Lubchenco’s refusal to release all relevant information about NOAA’s actions against Mr. Yacubian.”
The first step toward righting the unjust fines and penalties incurred by Massachusetts fishermen at the hands of poor leadership by the Commerce Department was the remittance of those penalties to some of the businesses and fishermen, such as Capt. Yacubian, who were treated unlawfully,” said Congressman Bill Keating, whose district includes the small ports along Massachusetts Bay and Cape Cod. “It is unacceptable that, over one year later, many of these same individuals are still fighting for restitution.”
A spokeswoman for Sen. John Kerry said he joins his colleagues in urging NOAA and Commerce to do right by Yacubian.
Richard Gaines may be contacted at 978-283-7000, x3464 or firstname.lastname@example.org.