A Michigan man who conducted unlicensed, illegal charter boat rides along the Chicago River and Lake Michigan, and occasionally asked passengers to lie to the Coast Guard about their trips, has been sentenced to a year in federal prison.
Christopher Mike Garbowski, 37, was issued a year-and-a-day sentence at a hearing this week after he pleaded guilty earlier this year to a felony charge of violating an order of the Captain of the Port.
According to federal prosecutors, Garbowski, of Sterling Heights, Michigan, lied to Coast Guard officials on multiple occasions, claiming that he was not operating a commercial charter service. In fact, he was running illegal commercial charter voyages from 2017 to 2019 on his 40-foot powerboat known as “Sea Hawk” and “Anchorman,” authorities said.
“Mr. Garbowski’s actions demonstrated consistent disregard for Coast Guard authority and federal regulations concerning passenger vessel safety, putting his unsuspecting, and paying, customers at risk,” Neal Marzloff, special agent-in-charge of the Coast Guard Investigative Service, said in a statement.
Prosecutors — who had recommended an 18- to 24-month prison sentence — said Garbowski purchased the boat around June 2017 and began running charter voyages soon after, despite the fact he hadn’t obtained specific certificates and credentials in order to do so legally.
Coast Guard officials confronted Garbowski that August as he was about to take passengers on a trip from Monroe Harbor. While he allegedly stated the trip was not a charter voyage, the passengers admitted that it indeed was. Prosecutors said Garbowski was issued an order prohibiting him from using the boat in any commercial service, but he allegedly took a different group of passengers out for a trip that same day.
Garbowski allegedly continued running these trips over the next two years, during which time he changed the name of his boat and would instruct passengers to lie to authorities, telling them to say he never charged them money.
According to prosecutors, Garbowski texted another boat owner in 2018, telling him they should “run as pirates” because “nobody gets rich playing by the rules” and “as soon as you apply for the licenses, your [you’re] on coast gaurd [guard] radar.”
“The Coast Guard regulations are designed to ensure the safety of passengers, crew members, and other vessels and individuals in the waterways,” Morris Pasqual, acting U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, said in a statement. “Our office will continue to hold accountable those who knowingly violate maritime laws and regulations.”