The former captain of a Honolulu-based longline fishing vessel who admitted trying to sell 100 illegally harvested shark fins to a restaurant at the Ala Moana Hotel has been fined in federal court but faces further prosecution by the state — if he ever returns from Mexico.
Matthew Brian Case, 47, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court on Dec. 6.
Case, as captain of the fishing boat Hokuao, told his crew to de-fin sharks on a monthlong trip that began in February, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. That involved catching the sharks, removing their fins and dumping their carcasses overboard.
He then tried to sell them for $600 on March 8, but the restaurant declined.
According to the terms of Case’s plea agreement with the government, U.S. Magistrate Judge Kevin S.C. Chang sentenced Case to a $100 fine. Chang also ordered Case to pay a mandatory $25 assessment.
The maximum penalty for Case’s crime under federal law is a year in jail and a $10,000 fine.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Brady said the government charged Case with a misdemeanor rather than a felony and recommended the $100 fine because the number of fins is relatively small, Case immediately cooperated and he agreed to travel to Hawaii from Mexico, where he now lives, for the plea. Brady also said Case intended to give the money from the sale to his crew rather than keep it himself.
What Brady did not tell Chang is that Case has a pending state prosecution stemming from the same incident.
Officers for the state Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement cited Case on March 19 with possessing shark fins, a state law violation punishable by a mandatory fine of between $5,000 and $15,000 for a first offense.
Case didn’t show up in Honolulu District Court to respond to the citation on April 29, so Judge Clarence Pacarro issued a $50 bench warrant for his arrest.
Brady declined to comment on whether he was aware of the state prosecution.
Defense lawyer Alexander Silvert said he himself was not.
In any event, Case was not arrested while on Oahu for the federal case.
Honolulu City Prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro said he learned of Case’s federal guilty plea and sentencing only after reading news reports. He said federal authorities learned about the case from the state yet didn’t inform state officials of their conversations with Case or plans to bring him back to Hawaii.
Kaneshiro said he intends to prosecute Case for the state violation if and when Case returns to Honolulu.
Before accepting Case’s guilty plea and sentencing him, Chang asked Case whether he is on parole or probation in any other jurisdiction.
Case told Chang he is on probation in San Diego.
Silvert immediately stood up and told Chang that had not been confirmed.
Case is on probation in San Diego for trying to enter the country at the U.S.-Mexican border in November 2012 with quantities of marijuana strapped to his body. He pleaded guilty to possessing marijuana and possessing it for sale. A California judge sentenced him to unsupervised probation.
Before a judge sentences a defendant in federal court, the court staff usually does a presentence investigation and report. Such an investigation would have revealed Case’s pending state prosecution and his San Diego conviction.
For misdemeanor cases, however, the prosecutor can waive the requirement for a presentence investigation, which Brady did in this case.
Silvert told Chang that Case had only $140 in cash on him and that his bank has no branches in Honolulu. So Chang agreed to give Case 30 days to pay the $125.