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Fishing company accused of pocketing license money

PORTLAND — The owners of a Depoe Bay charter fishing company are among 10 people who face racketeering charges following an investigation into a scheme involving fishing licenses, the Oregon State Police said Friday.

Julie Harmon, 51, and Tim Harmon, 67, owners of Tradewinds Charters, were booked into the Lincoln County Jail in Newport this week after the grand jury returned an indictment July 2. Also arrested were six boat captains and two other employees.

Oregon State Lt. Bill Fugate said the defendants charged customers for daily angling licenses, but they pocketed the money instead of buying licenses from the state Department of Fish and Wildlife. The customers were never given actual licenses, he said.

Investigators executed a search warrant in March at the company's Depoe Bay headquarters. According to the search warrant affidavit, Trooper Heather Van Meter first heard four years ago that Tradewinds was charging customers for one-day licenses but not providing them. Witnesses, including a former deckhand, later said the company often gave customers only a paper receipt.

The affidavit says police troopers twice went undercover. In the first instance, a trooper without a shellfish license was able to pull two crab pots. The second time, two troopers reported getting only paper receipts after paying.

Tim Harmon, from Lake Oswego, said in a statement first provided to The Oregonian that the arrests stem from a misunderstanding and the company has never done anything intentionally wrong. The Harmons' attorney, Richard Sause, said he had nothing to add.

The defendants have been released from jail, and a hearing is scheduled for Aug. 17. The owners — as part of their conditional release — have been ordered to stay in Oregon, and not sell any company assets or fishing licenses.

Besides racketeering, the Harmons and others were charged with theft, aggravated theft (more than $10,000), failure to remit moneys from license sales, and violations of Oregon wildlife laws.

The website for Tradewinds Charters says the company was founded in 1938, and has a 10-boat fleet available for fishing, whale watching, bird watching and ecology tours.