Fort Myers, Florida – U.S. District Judge John L. Badalamenti today sentenced Justin Patrick Obert (32, Fort Myers) to three months in federal prison, followed by three years of supervised release, for communicating a false distress message to the Coast Guard. The court also ordered Obert to pay $13,414.78 to the Coast Guard for costs associated with their search and rescue response.
Obert had pleaded guilty on August 21, 2020.
According to court documents, on the evening of September 9, 2019, Obert drunkenly discharged two red distress flares from a vessel near Fort Myers Beach, triggering an emergency search and rescue operation by the United States Coast Guard, Fort Myers Beach Fire Rescue, and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission. Ultimately, an intoxicated Obert was determined to be the person who had discharged the emergency flares, which he did when no emergency assistance was actually needed, causing the unnecessary diversion of search and rescue personnel from multiple agencies.
“Hoax calls put the public at risk,” said Capt. Matt Thompson, Coast Guard Sector St. Petersburg Commander. “Mariners on the water rely and count on Coast Guard assets and personnel to be ready and able to respond when they are in distress. Hoax calls can redirect critical rescue capabilities and put lives at risk in the dangerous maritime domain.”
This case was investigated by the Coast Guard Investigative Service, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, and the Collier County Sheriff’s Office. It was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Simon R. Eth.