US Fisherman Richard Baker,  jailed 12 months  in Lieu of $46,000 Fine, FINALLY released November 7, 2007

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Updated November 14th, 2007

The BVI Beacon
We fish for fun and just go out. ... The time we spent on Jost van Dyke when ... what he termed "a certain belligerence that Richard Baker displayed in court. ...


After release from BVI prison, fisherman getting 'back to normal'
By IAN MORRISON
Thursday, November 8th 2007

A package of news briefs from the Caribbean
Fort Wayne Journal Gazette - Fort Wayne,IN,USA
The couple - Richard Baker, a 54-year-old former police officer from Arlington, Virginia, and his wife, Deborah Barton - rarely caught many fish, ...


Virgin Islands, Virgin Islands Newspaper, A Pulitzer Prize Winning ...
Richard Baker, 54, was freed by BVI Gov. David Pearey following a review of ... The couple said they had not caught any fish and did not know they were in ...

By tiffany
The couple — Richard Baker, a 54-year-old former police officer from Arlington, Virginia, and his wife, Deborah Barton — rarely caught many fish, but were excited to explore new waters some 5 miles (8 kilometers) from their home in the ...
From me to you about Island Us Virgin - http://islandusvirgin.nanothat.com

Click here: US man recounts ordeal after fishing in British Virgin Islands lands him in jail - International Herald Tribune


U.S. diplomat meets with BVI officials about imprisoned fisherman
By LYNN FREEHILL
Saturday, November 3rd 2007


ST. THOMAS - A U.S. diplomat traveled to the British 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 sentence 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 been 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 constitution.

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 governor 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. They're still studying the details," Cotton said. "I would imagine to take into consideration all aspects, estimating a time frame wouldn't be possible."

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 down the 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 optimistic 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 home, 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 are more than 100 times greater in the BVI than an the USVI - $500,000, compared with $400.

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 operations involved.

Howard called the BVI law, which doesn't distinguish between penalties for commercial and sport fishermen, "flawed."

O'Neal is interested in revisiting the law, according to 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 year.

In the meantime, she said, the BVI plans to put out more 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
 reprinted from
http://bvinews.com/default.asp?sourceid=&smenu=198&twindow=&mad=&sdetail=
3673&wpage=1&skeyword=&sidate=&ccat=&ccatm=&restate=&restatus=&reoption=
&retype=&repmin=&repmax=&rebed=&rebath=&subname=&pform=&sc=1924&hn=
bvinews&he=.com
 
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. Thomas.”

"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 report.

"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 made.”

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 reasonable timetable.”

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 high-level review
By LYNN FREEEHILL
Saturday, October 20th 2007

reprinted from
http://www.virginislandsdailynews.com/index.pl/article_home?id=17616184


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 said.

"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 the boats.

DeJongh has asked for the U.S. Embassy to look into the full issue, Howard said.

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 

reprinted from
http://www.vistandpoint.com/content/view/143/29/

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 Government.

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 year.

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.
Richard Baker, British Virgin Islands
Richard Baker
 



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