By LAMECH JOHNSON
Tribune Staff Reporter
FOUR Dominican men were fined $1,000 yesterday after foregoing a trial and pleading guilty to illegal fishing in Bahamian waters.
Magistrate Andrew Forbes was expected to deliver his decision on bail for Noel Vasquez, 22, Pedro Diaz, 27, Nathaniel Peralta, 28, and Juan Garcia, 36, whose legal statuses are still in limbo pending approval of their spousal permit applications to the Department of Immigration.
They were to stand trial in February 2015 with Manaces Lora, 47, and Haitian Jeantal Nicholas.
However their lawyer, Jamal Davis, asked the court to re-read the charges to his clients.
With the aid of a Spanish interpreter, the magistrate read the charges and particulars stemming from the crime committed between September 28 and October 4.
“They all pleaded guilty,” the interpreter told Magistrate Forbes, who then went on to interpret the summary of the facts read by police prosecutor ASP Ercell Dorsett.
On October 4, at a cay off Bimini, Defence Force officers were on routine patrol when they came across a 53-foot vessel named “Miss Kiffie.”
Suspecting that the vessel was involved in illegal fishing, officers boarded the vessel and spoke with its captain, a Bahamian, and observed that the rest of the crew members were foreigners.
When searching the vessel, officers uncovered large quantities of fish. The men and vessel were taken to the RBDF’s Coral Harbour base where a Department of Fisheries officer inspected the catch.
They found 933 pounds of red snapper, 19 pounds of black snapper and 46 pounds of grouper on board the vessel as well as fishing traps.
They were handed over to police who cautioned and arrested them. When interviewed in police custody, the four admitted to illegally fishing in Bahamian waters.
The accused accepted the facts read and the magistrate convicted them accordingly.
Mr Davis asked the court to take into consideration that authorities had not charged his clients in connection with the 1,000 pounds of fish they caught.
“We’d also ask the court to be cognizant that their marriage certificates were produced and marriage spousal permit applications were before the Immigration Department,” the lawyer said.
Mr Davis added that his clients had only went on the fishing expedition because they had expected approval on their applications.
“The fact that no charges were brought against them from the department lends credence to their expectation of being given spousal permits,” the lawyer added.
He noted that a conditional discharge was warranted as the charge was a minor offence; it was his clients’ first conviction; they had not wasted the court’s time in going to trial and had spent nearly a month on remand.
He added that a conviction, even for a minor offence, would likely prejudice their applications.
The magistrate, having heard the submission, fined the Dominicans $1,000 each with the added stipulation that they serve three months in jail less the time already served on remand.
Mr Davis asked the court to give a conditional discharge on the condition that the defendants pay the fine to charity.
He felt this was an appropriate punishment, emphasizing it was their first conviction in the Bahamas and that they did have some status in the form of pending spousal permit applications before the Department of Immigration.
However, the magistrate said his decision was final and that if the lawyer disagreed with the court’s punishment, he could appeal the matter.
When the lawyer requested a stay on his clients’ deportation, the judge said: “I’m turning them over to the custody of the minister of immigration because there’s still the question of whether they will approve the applications.
“If the ministry does approve them, then they’ll have status. If they don’t,” the magistrate added, “your clients will have to leave the country.”