“I know what John Yates is feeling like. His heart has been ripped out. It really has an emotional, mental and physical emotion inside of you. The fact that you cannot go on this water and do what you were born to do, that man is going through a lot right now.” – Captain Kathe Fannon, Florida Fisherman
Captain Kathe Fannon has shared the Florida waters with former fisherman John Yates for years. Now, Yates’ career has been yanked from him by the federal government — and his freedom hangs in the balance.
In 2007, while fishing in the open waters, Yates was cited by local wildlife authorities for possessing three fish that were each one inch too small. On his return to the docks, Yates allegedly threw the three fish overboard.
Instead of being ticketed for the minor offense, federal authorities jumped in and charged Yates with violating the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, a white-collar criminal law intended to prosecute financial crimes by companies like Enron, and prevent them from concealing evidence or destroying records and documents – known as “tangible objects” — in a government investigation.
Former Congressman Michael Oxley is the co-author of the Act.
“In this case it was Enron that were clearly destroying evidence, erasing emails and trying to avoid being prosecuted that was what we were trying to get at. Not some little fisherman in Florida,” said Oxley.
Yates could get up to 20 years in federal prison for each fish he tossed into the ocean.
While the violation may not be in question, what is in question is the government’s use of laws intended to punish white collar crimes — not fishermen.
“I do take offense to the fact that people like John Yates, my husband and all the guys I grew up with, now everything we want to do out here, that we’ve worked our whole life is a federal offense,” added Fannon. “I think it’s wrong and I think It needs to be re-looked at.”
This past November Yates’ case was heard by the United States Supreme Court.
“I guarantee you there was never any intent by any member of congress to include this type of situation in the Act,” explained Oxley. “We never contemplated that (a tangible object) being a fish. Tangible objects as we understood them were records in the business community. I think that’s patently obvious and I think that will be patently obvious to the court.”