Woman pleads guilty to Lake Michigan distress call hoax

Reuters News
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Posted: Jan 29, 2015 3:26 PM

By Mark Guarino

CHICAGO (Reuters) - A Chicago woman pleaded guilty on Thursday to a federal charge of calling in a fake report that someone had fallen into Lake Michigan, triggering an extensive Coast Guard search that included divers and a helicopter.

Leona Chewning, 24, admitted that she purposely sent a false message to the Coast Guard in February 2013 that someone had fallen into Lake Michigan on the city's north side when no one was actually in the lake, prosecutors said in a statement.

The rescue effort cost $13,613 with the Coast Guard, state and local authorities responding with an ice and rescue team along with a helicopter and divers, the U.S attorney's office in Chicago said.

“False distress calls like this one tie up valuable assets and put our crews at risk since we take every distress call seriously,” said Captain Nicholas Bartolotta, chief of response for the Ninth Coast Guard District, in the prosecutors' statement.

The maximum sentence is six years in prison and a $250,000 fine, plus other fees and restitution. Chewning's plea agreement could result in a sentence of 4 to 10 months in prison.

(Reporting by Mark Guarino in Chicago and Kevin Murphy in Kansas City; Editing by Mary Wisniewski and Mohammad Zargham)