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Court Affirms Judgment in Salmon Tournament Scam

On Nov. 27, the 3rd District Court of Appeals affirmed a 2016 ruling by now-retired Door County Circuit Judge Peter Diltz that found a charter boat captain guilty of felony attempted theft by fraud by aiding his charter in placing a one-pound lead weight inside a fish in order to help their chances of winning a prize in the 2013 Kewaunee/Door Salmon Tournament. Cefalu was fined $2,500 in the Door County judgment. The first-place prize was $10,000 cash plus $1,500 in prizes. According to court documents, Michael Cefalu took Orlynn Helt out fishing during the 2013 competition. Helt registered a 30.27-pound Chinook salmon, the heaviest so far in the tournament. Cefalu took the lead in presenting the fish. When the tournament president scanned the fish with a metal detector, he got a hit. When he asked Cefalu to cut the fish open, the charter captain said he wanted to preserve it for mounting, but ultimately complied. The lead weight was found in the fish’s throat. Cefalu’s appeal maintained that evidence presented at his trial was insufficient to support his conviction, but the appeals court ruled that evidence presented was sufficient for the conviction. While the court did not determine which of the four men on the boat that day put the weight in the fish, it ruled that Cefalu personally aided the deception by helping to register the fish and present it for weighing and taking the lead in interacting with tournament officials. The court found Cefalu’s assertion “damning” that the fish must have swallowed the weight from the bottom of Lake Michigan because an “innocent, knowledgeable” charter captain would know Chinook salmon are not bottom feeders. The court also noted that Cefalu would have been motivated by the potential of sharing in the prize money and giving his charter business a boost for catching a winning fish.

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