Coast Guard and partner agency personnel conduct a joint operation and investigation of an illegal charter operation on Clear Lake in Kemah, Texas, May 18, 2022. U.S. Coast Guard Photo

Texas Man Faces Up to 10 Years in Prison for Illegal Charter Operation

Mike Schuler
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December 14, 2022

A 65-year-old boat captain is facing up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for operating an illegal charter cruise near Houston, Texas and lying to U.S. Coast Guard personnel.

Gordon Johnson of Seabrook, Texas was taken into custody this week on violation of a U.S. Coast Guard captain of the port order, making a false statement, obstruction of a proper compliance inspection and forgery of ships papers, announced U.S. Attorney Alamdar S. Hamdani.

The indictment was returned December 1 and unsealed Monday morning upon his arrest.

Johnson allegedly operated the MV Spanish Princess without complying with an order of the highest ranking U.S. Coast Guard officer in the Houston-Galveston area, the Department of Justice said in a statement. The indictment further alleges he made false statements to USCG personnel, claiming he did not to have paying passengers on his vessel, when he actually did, and instructed passengers to lie by telling personnel they were not paying passengers. He also forged the signature of the seller of the vessel on a USCG bill of sale, according to the charges.

The 67-foot vessel Spanish Princess had an active COTP Order restricting them from passenger operations, including the carriage of one or more passengers-for-hire, when the U.S. Coast Guard and partner agencies conducted a joint operation to terminate a charter voyage back in May. The vessel was suspected of violating the COTP Order, operating without a valid USCG Certificate of Inspection, operating without a valid Merchant Mariner Credential, operating without a valid Certificate of Documentation, and operating without enrollment in a drug and alcohol testing program.

“Illegal charter operations are disconnected from the regulatory and safety reach of the Coast Guard’s Prevention Department,” said Bruce Davies, chief of the Investigations Division at Sector Houston-Galveston, following the operation. “Without the Coast Guard’s regulatory oversight, passengers’ safety falls upon the unqualified or unlicensed operators conducting these illegal charters. The Coast Guard will not accept these unsafe operations and will continue to pursue statutory and regulatory enforcement actions against these illegal operators.”

If convicted, Johnson faces up to 10 years in prison as well as a possible $250,000 maximum fine. He could also be ordered to forfeiture the MV Spanish Princess.

“The Coast Guard Investigative Service (CGIS) is firmly committed to partnering with law enforcement agencies to identify and stop those who pose a hazard to the boating public,” said Special Agent in Charge Brian Jeanfreau, CGIS Gulf Region. “Ensuring mariners are fully qualified to safely operate passenger vessels is of upmost importance to the U.S. Coast Guard.”

Gordon Johnson was expected to appear for his initial appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge Andrew Edison on Tuesday.

Owners and operators of illegal passenger vessels can face maximum civil penalties of $60,000 or over for illegal passenger-for-hire-operations. Charters that violate a Captain of the Port Order can face over $95,000.

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