State wildlife officers charged the wrong man in the case of a casino boat that twice drifted from its mooring to become a navigation hazard, a circuit judge ruled this month.
Judge David Audlin upheld on Oct. 8 a lower court's previous ruling that Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officers' erroneously cited Michael "Micky" Marrone Sr. when they should have cited his namesake son or the company operated by his son, according to court records.
Michael Marrone Jr. is the proper legal owner of the 84-foot Pair-O-Dice casino boat that broke free from its mooring in Key West Harbor on Feb. 17, 2009, and drifted off Sunset Key.
Due to spotty research by FWC, though, the state has rolled snake eyes in this case, the judge concluded in a ruling that dismisses the charge as improper.
Two years earlier, the same vessel came within feet of colliding with government vessels berthed behind the Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center at Truman Waterfront after coming unmoored.
FWC officers charged Marrone Sr. with misdemeanor criminal abandonment of a vessel, but Audlin ruled the charge improper and unfair.
The FWC and Coast Guard reportedly spent nearly $100,000 removing and dismantling the defunct Pair-O-Dice on March 16, 2009, after it was towed to Robbie's Marina on Stock Island.
Audlin ruled that the FWC was "procedurally defective" in the case as they "failed to accurately research ownership of the vessel," according to court records.
Audlin noted state law allows a person five days to move a boat upon receiving notice from the state, a grace period known as the "Safe Harbor" law. In this case, even though Marrone Sr. was not the legal owner, he cooperated with the FWC and allowed the boat to be moved prior to even receiving written notice from the FWC, said Marrone's attorney, Sam Kaufman of Key West.
"The government cannot seek a citizen's cooperation in resolving what is alleged to be an emergency situation, obtain that cooperation, then further create a 'safe harbor' of five days in which to remove the vessel by the citizen, and then subsequently charge with a criminal violation when the vessel has already been removed," Audlin wrote.
In other words, you can't charge someone criminally with failure to remove a vessel when they previously cooperated in doing just that, Kaufman said.
The state will likely not seek charges against Marrone Jr. as he was never received written notification of the issue by FWC officers and therefore does not qualify for prosecution under the state law at hand, said State Attorney Catherine Vogel.
Richard Marrigan was also charged with misdemeanor criminal abandonment of a vessel in the case and his case remains pending, said Assistant State Attorney Anna Hubicki.
Marrigan's next court date was tentatively scheduled for Nov. 6. His defense attorney, Richard Wunsch of Key West, could not be reached for comment Thursday.