Abalone poacher gets 3 years with "buba"

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Posted by . on June 26, 2002 at 05:27:19:

Abalone poacher gets 3 years in state prison
By Ken McLaughlin
Mercury News


A Santa Cruz man who once sat on the state's Commercial Abalone Advisory Committee and railed against abalone poachers on CNN and the Discovery Channel was sentenced Thursday to three years in state prison for poaching the tasty mollusk.
Joel Roberts, 39, was arrested in December 2000 after he was caught poaching 129 abalone off the Sonoma coast using scuba gear at night. He had pleaded no contest to a felony charge of conspiracy to violate fish and game laws.
His partner, John Funkey, 30, of Capitola, had been sentenced previously to three months in jail on the same charge after agreeing to cooperate in a case against a San Francisco businessman allegedly involved in the illegal abalone trade.
Sonoma County Superior Court Judge Elliot Lee Daum on Thursday spurned a request from Roberts' defense attorney, Bruce Kinnison, to allow Roberts to rehabilitate himself and serve only county jail time. Kinnison argued that Roberts had been ``a star'' before and one day could become a star again.
In his Santa Rosa courtroom, Daum noted that O.J. Simpson and baseball players Pete Rose and Darryl Strawberry had also been stars, then gave Roberts the maximum sentence allowed by law and fined him $25,800. His diving equipment will be turned over to the state, his fishing privileges revoked for life.
``We're pleased,'' said Deputy District Attorney Brooke Halsey Jr., who has been aggressively prosecuting abalone poaching cases for a dozen years. ``Sonoma County judges have been the best in the state on this issue.''
In 1997, Roberts, then a professional commercial diver, lost his livelihood when the state banned commercial harvesting because of rapidly diminishing supplies and an abalone disease called withering foot syndrome. Abalone now can be legally taken from the sea only by recreational divers, and only north of the Golden Gate. The favorite diving spots are the craggy coasts of Sonoma and Mendocino counties.

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