Boat owner sentenced to prison for illegal chartering operation in Chicago

A Sterling Heights, Michigan boat owner was sentenced to one year in federal prison for conducting illegal charter operations on the Chicago River and Lake Michigan.

Christopher Mike Garbowski used a 40-foot powerboat known as the “Sea Hawk” or “Anchorman” to carry out the illegal commercial chartering operation at various locations, including the popular boating area known as “The Playpen” in downtown Chicago.

Between 2017 and 2019, Garbowski collected fees from groups of passengers, such as bachelorette parties, despite lacking the necessary boating credentials and US Coast Guard certification for his vessel. Despite being warned several times by the Coast Guard about federal regulations, Garbowski continued his illicit activities.

One incident occurred on August 19, 2017, in Monroe Harbor in Chicago, when Coast Guard personnel boarded Garbowski’s boat before it was about to depart on a five-hour charter with eight female passengers. In an attempt to deceive authorities, Garbowski contacted one of the passengers and instructed him to lie to the Coast Guard by posing as a friend. He also repeatedly denied, both verbally and in writing, operating a commercial charter service when questioned by Coast Guard officers.

Garbowski pleaded guilty to a felony charge for violating a Harbor Master’s order earlier this year. US District Judge Thomas M. Durkin presided over the case and imposed the one year and one day sentence after a hearing in Chicago federal court.

The sentencing announcement was made by Morris Pasqual, Acting United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, and Neal R. Marzloff, Special Agent in Charge, Coast Guard Investigative Service, Headquarters Field Office.

“The Coast Guard regulations are designed to ensure the safety of passengers, crew members, and other vessels and individuals on the waterways,” said Acting US Attorney Pasqual. “Our office will continue to hold accountable those who knowingly violate maritime laws and regulations.”

SAC Marzloff highlighted Garbowski’s blatant disregard for Coast Guard authority and federal regulations. “Mr. Garbowski’s actions demonstrated a consistent disregard for the authority of the Coast Guard and federal regulations regarding the safety of passenger ships, putting his unsuspecting and paying customers at risk,” Marzloff said.

This case serves as a reminder that authorities remain vigilant to ensure compliance with maritime laws and regulations, to protect the well-being of people navigating the waterways.