Arne Fuglvog, who was Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski's top fisheries adviser, pleaded guilty Thursday to breaking commercial fishing law and also indicated he could be feeding information to prosecutors in an attempt to lighten his sentence.
Fuglvog signed a plea deal on April 8 in which he admitted to a charge of breaking federal commercial fisheries law by falsifying catch records. He agreed as part of the deal to a sentence of 10 months in prison and $150,000 in fines and penalties.
But Alaska U.S. District Court Judge H. Russel Holland said Thursday there is an "addendum" to the plea deal between Fuglvog and prosecutors.
Holland said the addendum, which Fuglvog confirmed in court that he signed, says if Fuglvog "provides the government with some information then it holds out the possibility of a sentence reduction." Court records indicate that the plea addendum was filed Aug. 1 and that the judge has sealed it. So no details are public of just how Fuglvog might be cooperating.
Fuglvog, who was in Holland's courtroom this morning to formally plead guilty to the crime, would not answer any questions from the media.
His attorney, Jeff Feldman, also would not comment on the plea deal addendum or anything else related to the case against Fuglvog.
The judge allowed Fuglvog to go free Thursday on the recommendation of federal prosecutors, pending his sentencing, without having to post any bail. "The defendant has been responsive throughout to all the government's requests," Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrea Steward told the judge when he asked about bail. "I don't believe we are going to have difficulties."
The judge, with agreement from the prosecutors, even allowed Fuglvog to keep his passport so that he could go on what his lawyer called a "long-planned trip to Canada" for 10 days later this month. Judge Holland set a sentencing date of Nov. 18.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Steward said in an interview that Fuglvog is not considered convicted until the sentencing is complete and the judge has accepted the plea agreement. She declined to answer questions about the investigation of Fuglvog or the addendum to the plea agreement, except to say that it's usual to have a sealed addendum as part of any plea deal.
Fuglvog was Murkowski's fisheries adviser from 2006 until July 31, when he resigned the day before he was formally charged and his plea agreement went public.
Murkowski has said that Fuglvog, despite having signed the plea agreement on April 8, did not tell her about it until June 29.
Fuglvog's plea deal says he falsified records of his commercial catches several times between 2001 and 2006, a period during which Fuglvog helped regulate fishing off Alaska as a member of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council.
He admitted that in one 2005 incident he "covered up his illegal fishing" by claiming more than 30,000 pounds of sablefish, also known as black cod, were caught in the Central Gulf of Alaska region, rather than an area known as Western Yakutat.
The value of those illegally caught fish was about $100,000, according to his plea agreement.
News of Fuglvog's crime astonished many in the fishing world. John Sackton, president of industry information service Seafood.com, described Fuglvog as "the most important fisheries staffer in Washington."
Fuglvog came close two years ago to taking over as head of the National Marine Fisheries Service, the highest government position in the country that is focused solely on fishing. He was widely reported in fishing industry journals as being one of two finalists to take over the position.
The United Fishermen of Alaska on Saturday emailed a letter to its members, saying that the Fuglvog developments have cast a negative light on commercial fishing and stressing the need "to represent ourselves in a positive and forthright manner." The organization represents more than 30 commercial fishing industry groups throughout the state.
"UFA had no knowledge of fishing violations throughout Mr. Fuglvog's time of service on the NPFMC and his work for Senator Murkowski," wrote the group's president, Arnie Thomson, and its executive director, Mark Vinsel. "UFA's support for Fuglvog for the top ranking fisheries position in the U.S. in 2009 was based on his record of accomplishment and comprehensive knowledge of fisheries issues nationwide."
John Enge, who grew up in Fuglvog's hometown of Petersburg and created a fishing industry blog called "Alaska Café," confirmed this week that he had emailed UFA director Vinsel about Fuglvog in May 2009. Enge wrote in 2009 that "there is an effort to bring to light the log books of Arne's that document under-reporting of landings to NMFS Ram Division. ... Apparently there are plenty of people whose testimony of at least a ten year period of falsifying federal documents would hold up in court."
Vinsel said this week that Enge's email had seemed to him at the time like just one of the rumors that constantly swirl around the fishing industry. Vinsel said that he simply deleted the email and that UFA did not take any action as a result of his receiving it.
"UFA groups had already supported Fuglvog for the NMFS position two weeks prior to my receiving this message. I did not feel that this second hand rumor was credible, in light of the extensive background check that is performed on all regional fishery management council appointees," Vinsel said.
Reach Sean Cockerham at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4344.
By SEAN COCKERHAM