A man accused by the U.S. Coast Guard of broadcasting a false SOS was indicted under a new federal law that prohibits fake distress calls.
Benjamin Acardo James pleaded not guilty Thursday at his arraignment on federal charges of sending a bogus distress message, impersonating a U.S. Customs official and making false statements over the radio.U.S. Magistrate Linnea Johnson set bail at $10,000 but James was unable to make it.
James, 40, faces up to six years in prison and a fine of $5,000 for his alleged prank, which sent two Coast Guard boats and a helicopter scrambling to the rescue in the middle of the night. He may also have to pay for the cost of the search, which exceeded $5,000.
The Coast Guard received a call Jan. 7 from a man who said he was a U.S. Customs officer, according to an affidavit filed Thursday by Boatswain's Mate 3rd Class Troy Brown.
The man said 25 people, many of them children and non-English speakers, had surrounded his boat. Some were in life rafts and some were in the water, and he feared they would overload his boat, the affidavit said.
The distress caller said he was unable to determine his location off Miami. When the Coast Guard launched its search, it determined the man was not in the open seas.
Brown said when he spotted James in a doorway of a 35-foot boat moored on the Miami River with a radio microphone in hand, he asked the Coast Guard to place a call to the man. It was James who responded, and he was arrested.
"When he was being interviewed by me, he apologized for ruining our night and said, `I really had ya'll going for a while,' " Brown said in the affidavit.