Fish fraud: Police allege angler broke rules with $13,500 prize-winning catch

Fish fraud: Police allege angler broke rules with $13,500 prize-winning catch

Lake Champlain International walleye winner last year collected cash fraudulently, investigators say

Photo courtesy of Lake Champlain International

Photo courtesy of Lake Champlain International

COLCHESTER, Vt. (NECN) —Police in Colchester, Vermont, have cited a Plattsburgh, New York, man on accusations of felony fraud for allegedly passing off another angler’s trophy fish as his own.

“This is a first, as far as I know, for the derby,” said Lt. Doug Allen of the Colchester Police Department, referring to the Lake Champlain International Father’s Day Fishing Derby.

A catch during the 2015 event made history. When Craig Provost, of Plattsburgh, submitted a 10.26-pound walleye, it was hailed as a derby record.

According to Lake Champlain International, the catch earned Provost $13,506.87 in prize money through the derby, which collects add-on fees from entrants who want to become eligible for higher-tier bonus prizes.

But fast forward a year, and police are now calling the catch fraudulent.

“They are a charity, their funding goes to the betterment of Lake Champlain,” Allen said of LCI. “So it’s certainly something we take very seriously, as we would any fraud.”

Allen said his department’s investigating officer, Sgt. Mike Fish — yes, Fish investigated the fish case — determined Provost didn’t actually catch that big walleye himself. Instead, Allen said one of Provost’s friends caught it.

Detectives said the buddy was not entered into the contest for the derby’s top prizes, so handed off his walleye to someone who was entered: Provost. Provost then collected the cash for the other man’s catch, police said.

Provost was cited to appear in court in Burlington in late July, Colchester police said. No one else was cited, they added.

Provost has not responded to a Facebook message asking for comment. WPTZ’s Liz Strzepa knocked on the door of a home in Plattsburgh public records show belongs to Provost, but there was no answer.

While Provost has not yet entered a plea in court on the accusation, the judicial system presumes he is innocent until proven otherwise.

“It was a disheartening moment,” said James Ehlers, the executive director of Lake Champlain International, describing when he learned about the alleged violation of derby rules.

Ehlers said the situation came to his attention following rumblings in the fishing community that something wasn’t quite right with the prizewinner last year. He said he has never had to file a criminal complaint on behalf of LCI in his 18 years with the organization.

Lake Champlain International is a nonprofit that advocates for clean water and stewardship measures that protect the lake. Ehlers said the derby is the organization’s major fundraiser of the year, with thousands of participants coming from all over the northeast to enter the annual event.

“It could leave a bitter taste in my mouth,” Ehlers said of the alleged rules violations in the walleye category from 2015. “Except for the fact I know there are tens of thousands of LCI participants for whom that would never be a consideration, and for whom being on the lake and having a good time with this great activity is what the event is all about.”

LCI, which is now prepping for its 35th Father’s Day derby this weekend, has vacated the walleye record set last year, and is working to set things right with other participants from last year. Ehlers said that may involve reissuing trophies or prizes.

“In a marathon, you want to make sure your contestants aren’t using performance-enhancing drugs,” Ehlers noted. “In our case, when people bring us a fish, we want to make sure it was caught in accordance with the rules.”

Ehlers said he will seek restitution through the court.

“You’ve got to be honest,” said fisherman Dean Dennis of Colchester, who learned about the accusations Friday, seeking his reaction. “You’ve got to do what’s right in anything in your life. Because if you don’t, it’s going to come back to get you.”

LCI said Provost and his buddies have been suspended from participating in future events the nonprofit hosts.

As for this year’s derby, it’s Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. Ehlers said the weather should make for a great weekend on the lake.

Courtesy of WPTZ5

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