Florida case of three missing groupers to be heard by SCOTUS

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It may seem like a fish story, but the tale of John Yates, the Supreme Court and missing groupers is very true.

A case of three missing groupers and Yates, a commercial Florida boat captain charged with destroying evidence under a law originally enacted for the accounting industry, is now on its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, reports Politico.

The Court announced Monday that it would hear the case of Yates, who is arguing over the federal law used to convict him of throwing the fish, which were under the legal 20-inch minimum, back into the Gulf of Mexico.

Yates was convicted under a 2002 law passed by Congress addressing accounting industry abuses in the wake of the Enron scandal. Essentially, the law bans the destruction of financial records, which the federal government interprets as destruction of “tangible property.”

In 2007, a Florida fish and wildlife officer boarded Yates’ boat “Miss Katie,” sailing in the Gulf out of Cortez, for a routine inspection. After noticing a number of fish that appeared undersized, eventually turning out to be 72 red groupers under the 20-inch limit, the officer ordered those fish put aside for seizure upon returning to port.

When federal inspectors got involved four days later, the same Florida official recounted the undersized fish — only to find 69 fish. He suspected they were not the same fish as those measured at sea.

After questioning by federal agents, a crewmember admitted Yates threw the undersized fish overboard.

A jury convicted Yates, and he was sentenced to 30 days in jail.

An Atlanta federal appeals court upheld Yates’ conviction.

Yates swears the fish were not too small, but the SCOTUS decision will  be only about the application of federal law in his case.

Now, fishing boat owners refuse to hire Yates, fearing his being on their boats could leave to trouble with the federal government.

 “I am now unable to make a living doing what I love to do,” Yates said in an article for Politico, adding he still doesn’t believe a fisherman could be entangled by a law enacted to stop white-collar crime.

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.