Tampa Bay Online: What Rick Ehlert did aboard a cruise ship in November was stupid, his attorney says. Ehlert admits he got drunk aboard the MS Ryndam, broke into a control room and deployed the ship's anchor early in the morning, Daniel L. Castillo said. "I guess he thought it was a big joke."
Castillo added, "He's got a lot of money. It was a silly thing to do. It's silly. He's not denying he did it."
But is Ehlert guilty of a federal crime? Castillo says no. "He's guilty of felony stupidity — that he is," Castillo said. "But I don't think it should be a federal crime."
The attorney filed a motion Thursday to dismiss a three-count indictment against Ehlert, whom Castillo described as a wealthy Californian who owns an RV business. "An alcohol-induced reckless act does not necessarily equate to a violation of federal criminal statutes," Castillo wrote.
The lawyer says the charges — part of federal anti-terrorism legislation — carry a maximum possible prison term of 20 years, although prosecutors have told him they expect sentencing guidelines to call for probation. Castillo said he tried, without success, to have Ehlert admitted to a pretrial diversion program.
The Holland America ship, which was sailing from Costa Maya, Mexico, to Tampa, wasn't damaged, but it could have been, according to an arrest affidavit. Authorities said releasing an anchor on a moving cruise ship could damage the rudder and propeller, affecting maneuverability. It could puncture the ship, causing it to flood or sink.
Shortly after the anchor was released at 5:25 a.m., someone deployed a life buoy from Deck 11, the affidavit states.
About 7:30 a.m., the ship's captain made an announcement asking passengers and crew to come forward with information about the buoy, the affidavit states. When no one stepped forward, the ship's emergency alarm was sounded and all passengers and crew were mustered on deck.
After about 40 minutes, with everyone accounted for, passengers were allowed to leave the deck.
"Everybody was mad at him," Castillo said, but there was no damage to the ship and no one was hurt. "Where's the crime?"