Hoax caller fined

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SEPT. 15 — A federal judge in Hawaii ordered a California woman on Monday to pay more than $20,000 in fines for making a false distress call three years ago that led to a costly Coast Guard search.

The judge ordered the woman, who is from Santa Cruz, Calif., to pay $11,775 in restitution to the Coast Guard and a $10,000 fine, according to a news report in Hawaii’s Honolulu Advertiser. The woman was also placed on three months’ probation and four months of home confinement. By pleading no contest, the woman avoided a possible sentence of six years in prison, the report says.

In August 2003 the woman was rescued by a sailboat crew off Maui, Hawaii, according to the report. She told the boat’s skipper that she was one of seven people adrift after the canoe they were on capsized. The skipper contacted the Coast Guard with the information.

The Coast Guard launched a helicopter and a 24-foot rescue boat to search for the alleged victims, the report says. Back on land the woman admitted that the six other people had made it safely ashore.

“False distress signals not only place Coast Guard members at increased risk and cost taxpayers money, but more importantly, they divert Homeland Security resources from mariners who could actually be in distress,” Francis Genco, chief of the Coast Guard’s SAR Honolulu branch, says in the report.

— Jason Fell