The Coast Guard charged the owner and operator of an illegal charter vessel of misconduct and neglect in the death of a seven-year-old boy and 48-year-old woman when the 24’ vessel Stimulus Money capsized on the Hudson River in July 2022.

Richard Cruz and Jaime Pinilla Gomez, were arrested and served with a complaint March 8, according to a statement from the Coast Guard Sector New York.

Cruz and Gomez are each charged with one count of misconduct and neglect of ship officer resulting in death, which carries a maximum sentence of ten years in prison, according to the Coast Guard. The Stimulus Money, a Yamaha AR240 speedboat, was registered to its homeport of Waretown, N.J.

Coast Guard patrols in Florida often intercept and shut down illegal charters, and lodge civil charges against the operators. The New York criminal charges are an escalation in the Coast Guard’s campaign of years trying to rein in freelance boat owners and operators, who offer cut-rate boat hires, minus the legally required vessel safety inspections and crew qualifications of legal charter operations.

“Coast Guard Sector New York and the Coast Guard Investigative Services (CGIS) investigated the incident into suspected illegal passenger operations, finding the vessel did not possess the required Certificate of Inspection (COI) and the operator not having the required Coast Guard issued merchant mariner credential (MMC) to be operating a passenger vessel,” according to the Coast Guard statement.

The Coast Guard referred the case to the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York for further consideration in potential criminal prosecution.

“We offer our deepest condolences to those affected by this tragic accident,” said Capt. Zeita Merchant, Captain of the Port of New York. “We can’t stress enough how important it is for owners and operators to know your vessel’s limits and how to safely navigate the waters where you are operating. It is just as important for passengers to understand and ensure those requirements placed upon vessel operators for credentialling are in place before getting underway.”

In announcing the charges, Coast Guard officials urged the public to be on the lookout for illegal charters.

“If the vessel is carrying six or more passengers, with at least one paying for the charter, it must have a valid Coast Guard Certificate of Inspection (COI). Passengers can and should ask the captain of the vessel to verify their license and the inspection status of the boat,” according to the agency statement.

“All passengers should check the boat’s maximum capacity plate, if equipped. There should not be more passengers or weight on the boat than it is equipped for. Overloading can cause the boat to ride lower in the water, reduce the vessel’s stability, and greatly increase the chance of capsizing.”

In addition to criminal liability, owners and operators of vessels conducting illegal charters may also be subject to civil penalties of $60,000 or more for illegal passenger-for-hire operations. Charters that violate a Coast Guard Captain of the Port Order may also be subject to civil penalties of $111,000 per violation.

Some potential civil penalties for illegally operating a passenger vessel are:

• Up to $9,086 for failure of operators to be enrolled in a chemical testing program.

• Up to $5,661 for failure to provide a Coast Guard Certificate of Inspection for vessels carrying more than six passengers for hire.

• Up to $19,324 for failure to produce a valid Certificate of Documentation for vessels over 5 gross tons.

• Up to $14,149 for failure to have been issued a valid Stability Letter prior to placing vessel in service with more than six passengers for hire.