ST. THOMAS - A U.S. diplomat traveled to the
Virgin Islands this week, asking top leaders to consider granting
clemency to a U.S. Virgin Islands sport fisherman imprisoned for
fishing without a license in BVI waters.
Clyde Howard Jr., U.S. Consul General at the U.S.
Embassy in Barbados, met with BVI Gov. David Pearey and Premier Ralph
O'Neal on Tuesday and Wednesday to discuss the case of St. Thomas
resident Richard Baker.
Baker, 54, has served six weeks of his 12-month
in Tortola's Balsam Gut prison. The sentence was handed down after he
was unable to pay the $46,000 combined fine he received for unlicensed
fishing and illegal entry.
Baker and his common-law wife, Deborah Barton, had
relaxing on their boat Sept. 24 with two fishing lines and artificial
lures trailing behind them when enforcement officers boarded the
vessel. The couple said they had not caught any fish and did not know
they were in BVI waters.
The case attracted the attention of USVI Gov. John
deJongh Jr., who asked the U.S. Embassy in Barbados to intervene. It
also has begun to draw the interest of some media on the U.S. mainland,
with the Associated Press, Soundings magazine and Inside Edition in New
York pursuing stories.
BVI officials pledged to review the issue but
warned that they could not interfere with the courts.
Although Baker already has pled guilty and been
sentenced, one option that since has emerged is a possible pardon or
clemency - a power granted to the BVI governor by the territory's
Howard said he told Pearey that the United States
would appreciate such a decision for Baker.
"I told the governor that I hoped he would give
favorable consideration to clemency," Howard said. "We let him know
that we would welcome a favorable decision on his part."
Although clemency power rests with Pearey, the
must first be advised by an Advisory Committee on the Prerogative of
Mercy. The committee is made up of the BVI Attorney General, Director
of Health Services and four other community members, according to Sue
Cotton, staff officer in the governor's office.
The committee, which convenes at the governor's
request, met on Friday, she said.
"I don't think any decision has yet been made.
still studying the details," Cotton said. "I would imagine to take into
consideration all aspects, estimating a time frame wouldn't be
Barton, Baker's wife, said she hopes a decision is
rendered soon because her husband - who previously was diagnosed with
bipolar disorder - has begun to lose hope.
"He's deteriorating," she said. "If it's months
road, we could be in trouble with him. When you start breaking down
emotionally, it leads you down some strange halls."
With Howard's involvement, Barton said she is
that her husband could be released - and that the BVI's strict laws for
unlicensed fishing could be changed.
"I'm always hopeful that my husband's on his way
always," she said. "If it's a win-win situation, with him getting out
and changing that law, then it's worth it."
The maximum fines for fishing without a license
than 100 times greater in the BVI than an the USVI - $500,000, compared
At least two other USVI fishermen, Adin Kauffman
Ishmael Hodge, also have received fines of at least $30,000 this year
for fishing in BVI waters without a license.
And in 2002 and 2003, a series of U.S.-registered
found fishing in BVI waters were seized, causing public outcry and
leading to lost business for the charter boat operations involved.
Howard called the BVI law, which doesn't
distinguish between penalties for commercial and sport fishermen,
O'Neal is interested in revisiting the law,
Rosalie Adams, permanent secretary in the premier's office. "He
indicated an interest in having a meeting with the various stakeholders
with a view in making amendments where necessary to that same law," she
said. "At the time when they had passed that law they were thinking
more of the larger trawlers. They didn't anticipate this type of
discord coming between the two islands as a result of the law."
A review of the law will take some time to
complete, Adams said, but could perhaps be accomplished early next
In the meantime, she said, the BVI plans to put
information about water boundaries to guide fishermen and boaters,
beginning with adding more boundary details to its tourism website.
NEW DEVELOPMENT: Friends raise money for US
fisherman imprisoned in the BVI
BVI News Online 25.OCT.07
Friends of American Richard Baker who was sentenced to one year in
prison for fishing without a license are trying to raise money to pay
his $45,000 fine and set him free, The Associated Press has reported.
Richard Baker, a 54-year-old former police officer from Arlington,
Virginia, was sentenced to a year in prison last month after he and his
wife, Deborah Barton, were caught fishing without a permit and could
not pay the fine.
According to the AP report, “the severity of the penalty for
her husband, as captain of the boat, shocked the couple and their
friends in the nearby U.S. Virgin Islands, where they have lived for
about a year on their 12-meter (36-foot) trawler, Mambo, docked in St.
"He is the laughing stock of the prison," Barton said Tuesday in the AP
report. "The inmates who are in there for every other crime just crack
up at him because he is doing a year for fishing."
Barton said that when they were arrested they did not know their boat
had crossed into the territorial waters of the British Virgin Islands,
a self-governing chain east of Puerto Rico, the report said.
Laws in the British Virgin Islands provide for fines of up to
US$500,000 for illegal fishing and few question the territory's right
to protect its resources. But Baker's sentence has set off protests
especially since he is not a commercial fisherman, according to The AP
"The sentence is completely disproportionate," said Arnoldo Falcoff, an
employee at a dive shop where Baker is a scuba instructor.
Meanwhile, according to media reports, two persons protested
Baker’s incarceration at Saturday’s USVI-BVI
Friendship Day celebration at Crown Centre in St. Thomas.
According to the Source online newspaper, Premier Hon. Ralph
O’Neal recognized that fishing rights in BVI waters is one
barrier facing the two territories.
“We are very, very concerned about recent events,”
O’Neal was quoted as saying by The Source. “We have
to be respectful of the separation of powers, but we, who are part of
the executive, will do our utmost best to get this sore all cleaned up
as soon as we can. I beg you to give me a little time, and I tell Gov.
John I will be reporting to him regularly on the progress being
USVI Governor John DeJongh told the Source that he’s working
on securing Baker’s release and saw the premier’s
message as a positive sign.
“I am hopeful [Baker’s] going to get out in a
Since Baker’s incarceration a number of blogs and articles
have been published warning visitors about visiting BVI waters.
One blogger said: “Most if not all of our fishermen are aware
of the BVI fishing license law, and most try to obey the law. Richard
Baker is not a commercial fisherman, nor is he a serious recreational
fisherman. To penalize a cruiser of modest means because he had
basically stumbled into the fray is outrageously unjust. Whatever her
intended message was, the message that we are hearing from this
sentence is that Americans should not expect justice or fair treatment
in the British Virgin Islands.”
Case of U.S. fisherman in BVI jail getting
By LYNN FREEEHILL
Saturday, October 20th 2007
ST. THOMAS - Top officials in the British Virgin Islands, U.S. Virgin
Islands and a regional U.S. Embassy now are reviewing the high-profile
case of a USVI sport fisherman serving a one-year prison sentence for
fishing without a license in BVI waters.
Richard Baker, 54, was sent to the Balsam Gut prison on Tortola last
month after he was unable to pay the $46,000 combined fine he received
for unlicensed fishing and illegal entry.
Baker and his common-law wife, Deborah Barton, had been relaxing on
their boat Sept. 24 with two fishing lines and artificial lures
trailing behind them. The couple said they had not caught any fish and
did not know they were in BVI waters.
Baker's case is being scrutinized by the U.S. Embassy in Bridgetown,
Barbados, which serves the eastern Caribbean, consul general Clyde
Howard confirmed on Friday. Both Barton and USVI Gov. John deJongh Jr.
requested the embassy's involvement, he said.
Howard said he already had spoken to Baker by telephone to ensure that
he has received fair treatment in prison. And a consular representative
is expected to visit Baker within the next two weeks.
"He's better informed than most prisoners you find in overseas jails,"
Howard said. "He's a former police officer and a lawyer. He's a mature
individual who seems better able than most to handle his situation."
The extent of the embassy's reach is limited, however.
A U.S. citizen is subject to a foreign country's laws when visiting
there, just as visitors to the U.S. must obey American laws, Howard
said. "Generally speaking, we don't intercede with the host country
authorities to try to get a prisoner released or their sentenced
shortened," he said.
On the local level, Baker's case is expected to be a topic of
discussion during BVI-USVI Friendship Day ceremonies today. A group of
his supporters from the boating community are planning to stage a
protest at the Crown Bay Center.
The protests are not prohibited, lead event organizer David Edgecombe
"One of the wonderful things about where we live is that we do live in
a democratic society," he said. "That's one of the benefits of living
in such a society - you can stage one if you want."
Top BVI officials are aware of Baker's case and a legal review has been
launched, according to Rosalie Adams, permanent secretary to the
premier's office. BVI Attorney General Kathleen Quartey had that
evaluation "well under way" on Friday morning, Adams said, but she
cautioned that the process could not be rushed.
"As you know, they were following the law," Adams said. "We have to
look at the legal ramifications, and that takes time."
Baker himself has filed an appeal of his sentence - though not his
conviction, since he pleaded guilty to the charges.
Barton, his wife, has considered hiring two BVI attorneys, but so far
has found the costs prohibitively expensive. A $10,000 retainer would
be required, she said, followed by fees of $500 per hour.
Barton said her main comfort is that USVI government leaders seem to be
pushing forward on the issue. "I'm not more hopeful, but I still have
hope," she said. "We're not dead in the water yet with the BVI
government. We're hoping that Friendship Day may have some fruit."
Meanwhile, the broader issue of the drastic disparity between penalties
for unlicensed fishing in BVI and USVI waters also is being examined.
The maximum fines for that same offense are $500,000 in the BVI and
$400 in the USVI.
At least two other USVI fishermen, Adin Kauffman and Ishmael Hodge,
also have received fines of at least $30,000 this year for fishing in
BVI waters without a license.
And in 2002 and 2003, a series of U.S.-registered boats found fishing
in BVI waters were seized, causing public outcry and leading to lost
business for the charter boat operators and local fishermen who owned
DeJongh has asked for the U.S. Embassy to look into the full issue,
The embassy received that letter on Thursday and is now studying it
with the State Department to "determine what the appropriate response
would be," he said.
Friends of man imprisoned for illegal fishing
protest at Friendship Day
Written by ANDREW WILKINS
Saturday, 27 October 2007
At the Virgin Islands Friendship Day on October 13, a three-man protest
brought attention to the imprisonment of a United States Virgin Islands
fisherman caught fishing illegally in British Virgin Islands waters.
The $45,000 fine levied against Richard Baker, 46, a retired police
officer living on his boat in St. Thomas is
‘outrageous’ said Woody Young, a USVI fisherman and
one of the protesters calling for leniency.
Carrying signs that said ‘What friendship?’,
‘Let My People Go’ and ‘Free
Richard’, Woody said Baker’s plight was an honest
mistake. Young said Baker is not a commercial fisherman, did not catch
any fish and just had a couple of lines trailing his boat as he and his
wife cruised the waters between the two Territories.
"We know they are not going to change it [the conviction], but we are
hoping they can be reasonable with the fine," Young said.
This incident is a clear sign that there is a different form of justice
in the BVI, and Young said he would never come to the BVI again. He
compared the prosecution to a ‘speed trap’ where
police departments use unreasonable rules to make money for the
Because he could not pay the fine, the semi-retired dive instructor is
in Balsum’s Ghut Prison serving nine months. He is planning
an appeal, and supporters are raising money to help pay the fine.
The case has received international attention through the BBC and
several other media outlets. It was mentioned by Premier Ralph T.
O’Neal during his speech at the event, and reports said the
United States Embassy is getting involved.
"We are concerned, very, very concerned about recent events,"
O’Neal said. "We know, like you do on this side, we need to
respect the separation of powers: executive, legislative and judicial.
We will do our best – our utmost best — to get this
sore all cleaned up as soon as we can."
In an interview after the celebration, USVI Governor John deJongh said
O’Neal’s words gave him hope the situation will be
resolved quickly. Many of the speakers called for cooperation between
the two Governments, deJongh said, and an incident like this one should
be able to be resolved.
Richard’s wife, Deborah Barton , admits that they broke the
law, but did not know they were in BVI waters.
On September 24, the couple was out for a pleasure cruise with two
lines in the water, when a BVI law enforcement vessel stopped them.
After appearing before the Magistrate, she paid the $1,000 fine for
illegal entry, and was allowed to go home. As captain of the ship,
Baker was held for illegal fishing.
"My husband has never done anything wrong," Barton said. "He was a
paratrooper in Vietnam, a green beret, a retired policeman and
attorney. He’s an upstanding citizen and a wonderful human
being. Him being in prison for fishing is ridiculous."
She said she is doing everything she can to get her husband out of
prison. A BVI attorney wants a $10,000 retainer and $500 an hour to
take their case – money they do not have. Baker will serve as
his own attorney, she said, if it is permitted. Barton said she does
not want to hurt the reputation of the BVI, but she has been working to
get their situation noticed in the international media.
"This is going to get bigger and the BVI is going to look bad," said
the semi-retired cashier. "A lot of people are talking about boycotts
– I’m not supporting that – but the BVI
has got some laws they are enforcing that are not intended for people
like Richard and I. It sounds like they are for commercial fishing."
Barton said Baker is doing all right in prison, and that he is the
‘laughing stock’ of the prison because he is
imprisoned among murderers and robbers for something as simple as
fishing. There were initial problems getting him his medication in
prison, but that has been resolved, Barton said.
The couple is planning an appeal but is not sure when the appeals court
comes to the Territory. She has heard that it has already come for the
year and another story says that it will be here after the first of the
There is a big difference in how fishing is conducted between the
neighboring Territories, Barton said.
The USVI does not issue licenses for non-commercial fishermen, she
said, and their fine is only $400 without a single fine levied in the
past two years.