A man who presented himself as a licensed ship captain to operate commercial vessels on Lake Ontario — a ruse uncovered only after he ran a tugboat aground — has been sentenced to seven years in prison for fraud.
Mark Anselm, 38, of Clayton, N.Y., pleaded guilty to six felony counts of making false statements to Coast Guard inspectors, possession and use of an altered merchant marine license, and aggravated identity theft. He was sentenced May 5 in U.S. District Court in Syracuse, N.Y.
Anselm admitted that in early 2011 he presented fraudulent licenses at three marinas — in Gouverneur, Alexandria Bay and Clayton — and at a business in Cape Vincent that hires ship captains. Anselm had taken a license from another person without permission, then forged and altered it to show that he was the license holder, according to the Coast Guard Investigative Service.
Using copies of the false document, Anselm was hired and captained “various commercial ships” on Lake Ontario, including a tour boat in the Thousand Islands, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of New York.
“He convinced people that he had a proper license, producing what appeared to be a proper license, it having been falsified,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Craig Benedict. “Once he’s out of the harbor, a marina owner is not going to be able to assess his skills. It’s supposed to be something that occurs during training, which he also did not have, and through licensure, which he did not have.”
Anselm’s fraudulent activity came to light after he grounded the tugboat Ronald J. Dahlke on a sandbar in Lake Ontario on June 19, 2012. Inspectors from Coast Guard Sector Buffalo initiated an investigation, during which Anselm told them that he was the owner of the vessel. He was not; the vessel is owned by Dewey Marine Leasing of Rochester, N.Y.
Cindy Buckley, resident agent in charge with the Coast Guard Investigative Service in Buffalo, said Anselm told inspectors that he purchased the tugboat six or seven days earlier and did not have its certificate of documentation on board. He also said his merchant marine license was at his office in Rochester and that he could provide a copy by e-mail “as soon as he got back to his office.”
“Each representation made by Anselm to the Coast Guard prevention inspectors was false and known by Anselm to be false,” Buckley said in an e-mail to Professional Mariner. “He had no documentation establishing his ownership, he had never been issued a merchant marine license, and he could not and did not intend to provide documentation of his ownership when he returned to his office in Rochester, N.Y.”
According to the website of the New York Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, Anselm had three previous convictions: second-degree attempted forgery in 1999, second-degree criminal possession of a forged instrument in 2002, and third-degree grand larceny in 2002. He was released on parole in 2008.
When asked about how the untrained Anselm was able to pilot ships without an incident before 2012, Benedict drew a motor-vehicle analogy.
“If you were to drive on the highway without a license, how long would you get away with it?” he said. “Take away your driver’s license and take away your training and put you on the highway, and maybe you’ll do OK for a while and maybe you won’t.”