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Operator of Watertown rafting company fined $25k for defying court order

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A whitewater rafting company that operates a guide service in Watertown has been fined $25,000 for violating a court order requiring that it use only licensed guides on its excursions.

Acting State Supreme Court Judge Richard C. Giardino, Johnstown, earlier this month penalized Hudson River Rafting Co. Inc., North Creek, and its owner, Patrick J. Cunningham, after finding the business in contempt of court for violating a May 15 order that it use licensed guides on portions of the upper Hudson River, where only licensed guides are allowed to take clients rafting.

The company, which also runs trips on the Black River from 424 Newell St., came to the state attorney general’s attention in September 2012 when a 53-year-old Ohio woman drowned after falling from a raft on Indian River in Hamilton County. State police arrested the rafting guide, charging him with criminally negligent homicide, accusing him of being drunk during the rafting trip. Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman sought to have the company shut down permanently, citing the drowning and other safety concerns.

In his May 15 order, Judge Giardino barred the company from offering guided rafting trips on any river in the state where licensed guides are required and made the company post a $50,000 performance bond before trips could be resumed. He also ruled that the company would be fined $5,000 for each instance in which it was shown that the company violated the order requiring licensed guides. In July, the company posted an irrevocable letter of credit to the state and was allowed to reopen.

In August, the attorney general accused the company of again allowing an unlicensed guide to lead trips down portions of the Hudson River where licenses are required. Mr. Schneiderman’s office provided Judge Giardino with affidavits from five customers in which it was claimed that an unlicensed guide had led their trips down portions of the river where only licensed guides were allowed.

Judge Giardino’s decision shows that the company claimed that the five trips all occurred in the middle Hudson River, where no licensed guides are required. However, the judge determined that the company failed to refute the attorney general’s evidence that the trips occurred in a portion of the river requiring licensed guides. He assessed $5,000 fines for each of the five unauthorized trips.

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