A Carteret County man has pleaded guilty to a hoax that cost the U.S. Coast Guard hundreds of thousands of dollars in resources.
U.S. Attorney Thomas Walker announced that 27-year-old Homer Lewis Blackburn, of Atlantic Beach, pleaded guilty in federal court Friday to making false distress calls. He faces a maximum penalty of six years in prison, a $250,000.00 fine, and restitution of all costs incurred by the Coast Guard.
On Oct. 8, 2013, the Coast Guard received a "Mayday" call in which Blackburn claimed he was sinking and abandoning his boat in the area of Cape Lookout and Shackleford Banks, records show.
The Coast Guard, the Marine Corps, the National Park Service and a local salvage company searched the area using helicopters and boats. The Coast Guard said $288,390.80 worth of resources were used before investigators determined the calls were a hoax.
A witness later contacted the Coast Guard and identified Blackburn as the caller, investigators said. The witness said Blackburn used a CB radio he mounted to the balcony of his Atlantic Beach apartment to make the fake distress calls.
The witness told the Coast Guard she heard Blackburn say, "Mayday, Mayday" and that he was sinking in the area of Cape Lookout. Blackburn then went out to his balcony to watch the helicopters search the area, the witness told investigators.
Blackburn later sent the witness a text message asking her not to tell anyone about his calls, according to records.
Another witness also came forward and said Blackburn bragged about making the hoax calls, said investigators. Blackburn eventually admitted he made the calls because he thought they were funny.
"False distress calls limit the Coast Guard's ability to respond to actual emergencies," said Capt. Sean Murtagh, commander of Sector North Carolina. "Ultimately, they penalize the local communities and mariners the Coast Guard is charged to protect by unnecessarily endangering the lives of responders and wasting hundreds of thousands of tax payer dollars."