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Fishing News and Tide Chart
March 1, 2018

Department of Game and Inland Fisheries Complete Boater Education Certificate Fraud Investigation
Submitted by Captain Chris Thomas

FI 15mar18RICHMOND, VA— An investigation was recently completed by the Virginia Department of Game & Inland Fisheries (DGIF) Marine Theft and Fraud Unit into the activities of a person suspected of selling fraudulent boater education documents by advertising his services on Craigslist. The suspect conducted his scheme in the City of Portsmouth.

Virginia law requires that a boat operator take a boater education course before operating certain vessels on the waters of the Commonwealth of Virginia. One class that meets the requirements of this law, is a no cost on-line course provided by BOATUS as a service to the boating public. In this case, the suspect was advertising on the internet to sell fraudulent boater education certificates to individuals for a fee. This would allow the purchaser to operate boats and if checked by law enforcement would appear to have passed the boater education course by displaying his certificate when checked on the water. The seller of the certificates actually assumed the identity of the customer who paid him to take the course for them. After taking and passing the on-line course for the customer, he would meet or mail the certificate to the individual in exchange for being paid. In some cases purchasers also paid for certificates for their spouses or children as well as themselves.

An undercover Special Agent with DGIF arranged for the seller to take the course for him for a fee and met him afterwards to pay for and obtain the boater education certificate. As a result, search warrants were obtained for computer records and the identities of those people who had purchased the certificates were identified. Follow-up investigations led to the seizure of dozens of fraudulent boater education documents seized from those who did not take the course.

The seller of the documents, Richard C. Harrell of Portsmouth, was charged in Portsmouth with sixteen counts of obtaining fraudulent documents to make a false status under 18.2-204.1 Code of Virginia. This is a Class 1 misdemeanor and carries up to 12 months in jail and a $2,500.00 fine- or both. Harrell was prosecuted by Portsmouth Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney John Hall. A plea agreement was reached and the suspect pled guilty to three counts of that charge and received 3 years in jail, which were suspended, and he was given 3 years’ probation.

Additionally, 24 other adults were charged with possession of fraudulent documents. These individuals later pled to violating 29.1- 735.2 which makes it against the law to operate a boat without the required boater education safety course. As a penalty, they were required to pay a civil fee to the DGIF Motorboat Safety Fund. The purchasers were tried in the cities of Portsmouth, Virginia Beach, Suffolk and Chesapeake as well as the counties of Henrico and Isle of Wight.

"As the Commonwealth’s boating safety agency, it is important for boat operators to actually take the required safety course so they will be safer operators of their boats, making our public waters a safer place for all to boat and recreate.” Major Scott Naff, Assistant Chief of Operations for DGIFs law enforcement division.

To learn more about boating laws in Virginia and about boating safety education courses, visit the Department's website at

Remember, everyone wants to have a safe, enjoyable day on the water. Do your part by wearing your life jacket and taking a boating safety education course.


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