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Highest court to hear local commercial fisherman’s fish tale

By Rick Catlin, Islander Reporter

John Yates works painting furniture at the antique-nautical gift shop he and wife Sandy Yates operate in Cortez. The former Cortez fisherman will have his appeal of a 2012 U.S. federal court ruling in October heard by the U.S. Supreme Court. Islander Photo: Rick Catlin

The U.S. Supreme Court is getting involved in a fish tale — a true fishing story.

On April 28, the Court agreed to hear an appeal by Holmes Beach resident and former Cortez fisherman John Yates that his 2012 federal conviction for evidence tampering was based on the wrong law.

The evidence in the federal law used to prosecute Yates — Sarbanes-Oxley — were three red grouper a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officer investigating his catch in November 2007 determined were missing from the officer’s count the previous day.

Sarbanes-Oxley was enacted by Congress in 2002 to close loopholes in laws against destroying evidence following the Enron scandal.

Yates was charged in federal court with destroying evidence — the three missing fish — an alleged act the government said is prohibited by Sarbanes-Oxley.

He was convicted by a jury in 2012 and sentenced to 30 days imprisonment and three years of probation.

Yates’ attorney, John Badalamenti, contends in the appeal that Sarbanes-Oxley was the wrong law to use in the prosecution of Yates.

Yates has been ordered by Badalamenti not to discuss the appeal with the media.

According to a definition of Sarbanes-Oxley on the Internet, the law “set new or enhanced standards for all U.S. public company boards, management and public accounting firms,” among other standards.

Yates’ wife Sandy said even a favorable decision by the Supreme Court can’t undo what’s happened to them since the conviction.

“We lost our time-share, our livelihood, our income and our quality of life because of three fish,” she said. “File this one under Ripley’s ‘Believe it or Not.”

The Supreme Court decision will apply only to whether the correct law was used by federal prosecutors in the 2012 court case.

Yates and his wife operate Off the Hook antiques and gift shop in Cortez, and continue to live in Holmes Beach.

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