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Outrageously Unjust

Dear Source:
On Monday, September 24th Deborah Barton and Richard Baker were out for a day on the water on their 36 foot live aboard trawler "Mambo". They were trolling with a cheap spinning reel and light tackle when they were boarded by Conservation and Fisheries in the British Virgin Islands and arrested for illegal entry and fishing without a license. They were escorted to Road Town and not formally charged until 7:30pm on Monday evening. They were in court facing the magistrate at 9:30 the following morning. There were virtually no business hours between the time that they were charged and when they were in court for them to have contacted a barrister. Being by nature very honest people and not understanding the penalty that they were facing, Richard and Debbie plead guilty to the charges. Debbie was found guilty of illegal entry and fined $1,000. Richard was found guilty of illegal entry and fishing without a license. The combined fine for Richard was $46,000. In lieu of the $46,000, Richard was sentenced to 12 months in prison in Tortola. Richard is now in a high security cell in Her Majesty's Prison in Tortola.
Richard and Debbie are a very nice semi retired couple of modest means. Richard is a former US Army paratrooper and is retired from the Washington DC Police Department. They were relatively new to boating and have often made jokes about their inability to fish. The sentence that Richard received was harsher than any received thus far by any of the commercial fishermen who have faced the same charges in the BVI. Debbie is probably going to have to cash in an IRA, the only money that either of them has set aside for their retirement, in order to get Richard out of jail. Whether or not the fine is paid and Richard is released, this event will have a lasting negative impact on their future and their future financial stability.
Magistrate Valerie Stevens implied at Richard's sentencing that she wanted to send a message to the USVI that too many US Virgin Islanders are fishing in the British Virgin Islands and that it needs to stop. This message was made all too clear to US Virgin Islands fishermen by actions taken by the British Virgin Islands over the last few years without it having to be reiterated by the grossly unfair sentence of someone not at all related to the fishing industry. Most if not all of our fishermen are aware of the BVI fishing license law, and most try to obey the law. Richard Baker is not a commercial fisherman, nor is he a serious recreational fisherman. To penalize a cruiser of modest means because he had basically stumbled into the fray is outrageously unjust. Whatever her intended message was, the message that we are hearing from this sentence is that Americans should not expect justice or fair treatment in the British Virgin Islands. This sentence smacks of prejudice.
Paige Santiago-Passano
St. Thomas

Editor's note: We welcome and encourage readers to keep the dialogue going by responding to Source commentary. Letters should be e-mailed with name and place of residence to source@viaccess.net.

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