Christopher Alan Switzer, 39, of La Jolla, and Mark D. Gillette, 37, of San Diego, were spared any jail time by U.S. District Court Judge Michael Anello.
Both men pleaded guilty to conspiracy to sink their 57-foot boat used for charter sport fishing trips. Switzer’s attorney, Victor Pippins, said no insurance claim was actually filed “after he realized the gravity of his actions.”
“My life has so changed. I’m truly sorry for the pain I caused my family,” said Switzer to the judge. “I’m a true American, and a patriot.”
Switzer is a retired U.S. Army ranger and several other rangers wrote character letters on his behalf.
“We’ve got basically a good guy here who made a mistake,” said Anello about Switzer.
Gillette produced a cashier’s check for $9,000 Monday, which is his half of the Coast Guard’s costs. Both men also had to pay the costs of storage of the Commander, which did not fully sink on Oct. 11, 2016.
“Luckily, nothing worse happened here. We have a pretty good guy here,” said Anello about Gillette.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Ari Fitzwater did not ask for any jail time and agreed the defendants are remorseful. They could have received a maximum 10-year sentence in federal prison.
Pippins said Switzer’s total financial loss “is in the high six figures” as a result of his “foolish desperation” in trying to sink the boat. Switzer and Gillette had huge losses on the boat before they agreed to sink it.
The Commander was homeported in Mission Bay. Both men admitted they destroyed plastic PVC piping in the ship’s engine room that caused sea water to flood into it. They also pumped sea water onto the vessel and punctured its bulkhead.
They called the Coast Guard for help. A Point Harbor Patrol rescue fireboat later found them atop the partially submerged ship. Both men gave a series of false statements to officials to cover up that the boat was intentionally sunk.
They told authorities the Commander suffered a power failure and did not know why it was flooding. The next day, the Commander was found adrift near Dana Point and only partially submerged.
A commercial salvage company towed the boat to San Diego Bay, and investigators uncovered the deliberately torn pipes in the engine room.