Daily Sitka Sentinel
Both Thomas Ohaus, 59, and Charles McNamee, 38, who share ownership of the Halibut Point Road charter business Angling Unlimited, face five misdemeanor counts for allegedly making false statements to obtain resident fishing licenses and are scheduled to be arraigned June 26.
The troopers allege that both men have obtained resident fishing licenses for at least the past few years despite living most of the year outside Alaska.
McNamee and Ohaus did not return calls seeking comment.
Brent Cole, an Anchorage attorney representing Ohaus, said his client had not knowingly violated the law and would plead not guilty to the charges filed by troopers.
“Most people that are in the position he’s in don’t go out and violate the law,” Cole said. “Most people who are successful business people who give to the community are not the type who engage in criminal activity.”
State records available online show Ohaus as a 70-percent owner of Angling Unlimited, while McNamee owns 30 percent of the business.
Ohaus is president of the Southeast Alaska Guides Organization (SEAGO) and is currently up for an open seat on the International Pacific Halibut Commission, the body charged with managing halibut stocks in the north Pacific.
SEAGO, which represents charter operators around the region, and the Kenai River Professional Guide Association jointly nominated Ohaus for the IPHC seat.
Cole said the charges against Ohaus have nothing to do with the operation of Angling Unlimited.
Cole said he has defended clients in dozens of cases involving residency law in Alaska. He said the relevant state statutes are “highly subjective.”
He said part of the confusion surrounding residency rules stems from the different standards that apply to hunting and fishing licenses, voting and the Permanent Fund dividend, to name a few.
“This is not like a case where you steal somebody’s car and drive away and it’s pretty obvious what you’re intentions are when you do that,” Cole said. “It is not as easy as simply looking at the statute and knowing what it means... It can be very complicated and very difficult to prove one way or another.”
He added: “The government has made some allegations and I would say there is some pretty significant disagreement about the allegations. I think a critical eye for what the burden on the state is will show that much of the information (in the charging documents) is not relevant at all to the issue.”
Applicants for Alaska fishing licenses are asked if they’ve been in the state for 12 consecutive months with the intent to remain here indefinitely. State fish and game law states that resident status can be lost if a person claims a benefit in another state or “performs an act, or is absent under circumstances, that are inconsistent with the intent required under the residency provision...”
In charging documents, troopers allege that both Ohaus and McNamee have claimed “homestead exemptions” on properties outside of Alaska -- Ohaus in Massachusetts and McNamee in Minnesota -- while also holding Alaska resident sport fishing licenses.
Troopers said that in both Massachusetts and Minnesota a homestead exemption can only be claimed on a primary residence. The charges against Ohaus note that in Massachusetts a homestead exemption can “provide tax exemptions and can be used to protect the home from civil actions.”
In court papers, Tim Hall, a wildlife trooper stationed in Sitka, said the investigation into Ohaus and McNamee started in March after Hall made contact with a 33-year-old Minnesota man who was preparing to fish in Sawmill Creek. Hall said he recognized David Gross as a sport fishing guide at Angling Unlimited.
Gross had a resident fishing license, but allegedly admitted to Hall that he been in the state less than the required 12 months. Gross was charged with a misdemeanor count of illegally obtaining a resident fishing license and two counts of illegally taking a deer without a non-resident tag. He is due in court next week. His attorney, Jim McGowan, was not available to comment.
As Hall looked into Gross he went to the website of Angling Unlimited and started to check the residency status of McNamee and Ohaus, court papers said.
“The website and my knowledge of the company indicated many of the employees are from Minnesota,” Hall said in an affidavit filed in District Court. “Over the past three winters I observed the lodge to be largely unoccupied through the winter months from mid-late September through April.”
Hall said the checked with state Fish and Game and discovered Ohaus had held resident fishing licenses since 1997.
He is formally charged with obtaining an Alaska-resident fishing license in the years 2008 to 2011.
Hall also noted that Ohaus had allegedly obtained a non-resident saltwater fishing license in Massachusetts and used the Sitka address of Angling Unlimited on the application for the Massachusetts license.
Hall said that during his investigation he had obtained a copy of Ohaus’ nomination packet for a seat on the IPHC.
Two seats are open on the IPHC, including one for an Alaska resident.
In his court affidavit, Hall said he obtained a copy of a recent letter from Ohaus to NOAA official Jim Balsiger, an IPHC commissioner who is coordinating the nominating process for the National Marine Fisheries Service.
“Upon reviewing a number of legal definitions, in light of personal/family obligations, I am unable to commit to indefinite presence in the state of Alaska for the next several years. As such, I have concluded that my personal circumstances do not meet the threshold for Alaska residency,” Ohaus said in the part of the letter quoted by trooper Hall in court papers.
State troopers said both Ohaus and McNamee received an Alaska Permanent Fund dividend in 1999, but had not applied for or received a PFD in other years.
Hall said in his affidavit that McNamee had obtained a resident fishing license each year since 1998. He is charged with illegally obtaining a resident fishing license from 2007 to 2011.
In the final paragraph of his affidavit Hall describes the significance of the sport fishing privileges available only to Alaska residents.
“In Southeast, Alaska, the advantages of being a resident for the purposes of sport fishing are substantial beyond the difference in price of the license,” Hall said. “Annual limits are imposed on non-residents for king salmon, lingcod, and yelloweye. Non-residents may not participate in Personal Use or Subsistence fisheries, such as king crab fishing or subsistence salmon harvest. Non-residents are also limited by lower daily bag limits, pot limits for shellfish, and for instance, are excluded from harvesting shrimp in the Sitka Sound area. There is also a benefit for a sportfish guide to be portrayed as an ‘Alaska resident.’ There is significant respect for the knowledge of a local guide within the charter fishing industry.”