Thompson Case Documents


Legal Documents

Rescue Event

Case Details

This page has been provided to inform interested persons about the legal case of Kevin Thompson of San Leandro, which gained some notoriety in 2004 and onward. Virtually all the media accounts repeated the same few stories, and thus lacked numerous details. Some were blatantly prejudiced.
The linked public documents are especially relevant to the Wikipedia article about Kevin Thompson (Pastor).

Please understand that Wikipedia has rigorous standards concerning Biographies of Living Persons. No matter how good a participant's intentions may be, rash changes to that article will not be allowed by their moderators. Every fact and assertion much be verifiable, by links to reputable web sites, media accounts, and/or official public records.

The first section of the attached file is a copy of the Federal indictment. Second is the relevant California Assembly Bill 1406, and the third is a copy of Section 8388.5 of the California Fish and Game Code.

(The link is to a 650kb PDF file.)

Thompson Case Documents

In brief: the Federal Lacey Act is enforced based upon state laws, and prior to January 1994 it was not illegal in California to catch leopard sharks of any size. The enabling 1994 law set limits upon juvenile leopard sharks only, not adults over 36 inches long. I've also been informed, by attorneys involved in the case, that not all Pacific coastal states have enacted such enabling legislation. Thus it remains legal to catch such sharks in those waters. They are not an Endangered or Threatened species.

During the entire shark controversy, the media totally ignored a previous occasion when Thompson appeared in the news, and in a rather different light. One might speculate as to why, however this remains a matter of personal opinion.

In May of 1994, Kevin Thompson received two awards for heroism (from the US Navy and the US Coast Guard), for rescuing a downed Naval aviator from San Francisco Bay, despite having a boat load of kids along.
On April 5th, 1994 a Navy A6 Intruder jet, while flying touch-and-go maneuvers out of NAS Alameda, ditched in the bay. This happened in broad daylight and calm waters, near the eastern span of the Bay Bridge. Both pilots ejected, but due to the bad angle and low altitude, they slammed into the water. This tragedy was witnessed by thousands of people, from as far away at the Embarcadero waterfront in San Francisco. It was big news for many days.
There were only two boats near the crash site: Thompson's small Ocean Church boat, and a commercial marine service vessel. Coordinating by two-way radio, each boat moved toward the area where the pilots hit the water, some distance apart. Despite heavy (waterlogged) flight suits, they were able to keep both pilot's heads above water until Coast Guard rescue boats arrived.
(Unfortunately, because of the extreme trauma upon impact, neither pilot survived. )

Here are some photos and scans.

Thompson and a friend with a Coast Guard Captain.

Rev. Thompson and Mr. Esch, the second boat captain.

(Click on the images for large JPEG copies.)

Thompson's official Coast Guard commendation.

(Click for large PDF file.)

Front page article in the The Carrier,

the base newspaper at NAS Alameda.

(Click for large JPG files.)

If I can obtain more official documentation, this event deserves mention in his Wikipedia article.

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What is my interest in the shark case? First, a little something about my bona fides:

My family (on my father's side) has been well-established in northern California's East Bay area for more than 100 years, through five and six generations. My great-grandmother's brother Andrew Lundgren was a contractor who literally helped put Berkeley on the map. My grandfather Alfred Carlson was a dock worker who, at considerable risk, helped Harry Bridges found the modern longshoreman's union. My uncle Raymond Carlson was an El Cerrito police officer, and sport fisherman, who docked his boat in the Richmond harbor.

Here's where I come in:

My family and I moved back to the Bay Area in 1990, and I took a job at Yamato Foods [now True World Foods], a major wholesale seafood company in San Leandro. I was a delivery driver, but sometimes worked around the plant. Most of their product is commercial, and trucked or air freighted in, but local fisherman also brought in small catches. Meanwhile, as a Unificationist, I began to attend the local Sunday services, then held in Berkeley by the Rev. Jim Stephens.

We got to know Kevin Thompson and his family, and they have always been kind and generous. For instance, they helped us furnish our first apartment, when local prices were already very high. He's had a wonderful Japanese wife since 1982, and five children who are doing well.

Since then, he's obtained a degree in counseling from Holy Names College in Oakland, and as Pastor of the Bay Area Family Church, assists numerous couples and families. He's done great ecumenical work with the Christian, Muslim, and other faith communities. Also, when his sentencing came up, the court received dozens of letters testifying to his good character and works, many from local clergy and VIPs.
Thompson attended the Unification Theological Seminary in upstate New York, to obtain additional degrees and prepare for future church missions. He then spent time in New York City as an assistant at the national Unification Church headquarters. (In 2009 he returned to the pulpit of the BAFC.)

I was never involved in their fishing activities, but was gratified by Thompson's many good efforts. For example, giving city kids a chance to spend a day out on the bay, saltwater fishing. One time we did ride Ocean Church boats to a BAFC picnic on Angel Island, and spent a couple of hours trying to catch flounder and cod.

Now to the events in question:

How much damage was actually done? In a word, not much. Leopard (and other) sharks are widely regarded by Bay Area fishermen as "junk" fish, useless from a commercial standpoint. Instead they'll grab bait, and clog up nets and long-lines. While some people eat shark meat, your average fisherman regards them as a nuisance.
During his stay in a minimum security Federal prison, none of his fellow inmates believed Thompson's account of his prosecution. (As in: You weren't smuggling drugs in your boat? Dumping toxic waste?? Shooting it out with fisheries agents??? No, no, and no!)

Around 1990, Kevin Thompson was asked to be the local head of a new ministry called Ocean Church, in keeping with Rev. Moon's lifelong standing as a fisherman, and the man's love for the ocean. Then, after launching that ministry in the Bay Area, Thompson was left pretty much on his own initiative. (That included a lack of directions, oversight, and funding.)
At some point, he and John Newberry realized that live juvenile leopard sharks had value as aquarium fish. And the bay was, and still is, swarming with the critters.
By the way, media accounts of their "sneakily" fishing at night are inaccurate. That's absurd on the face of it, except to people who know more about media sensationalism than actual fishing. In fact their boat was plainly visible, year after year, spending the daylight hours by itself on a quiet stretch of water.

It's important to note that it was not illegal to catch them when Thompson and his companions began their projects in 1990. (Some accounts say 1992, but in reality, they started small in 1990.) The law changed in 1994, several years later. As I understand it, if they even knew about this, Thompson assumed it was a minor regulatory thing. (Ever partied hearty then driven yourself home? Fudged a line on your taxes? Left some nasty trash in the wrong place? Better fess up!)
As for myself, I had no inkling that anything untoward was going on, and only heard of the Lacey Act in 2004.

I hadn't quite realized the impact this case made in the worldwide media. Apparently the newspapers in Korea made it sound like they'd laid utter waste to a teeming wilderness! And that Rev. Moon was right there beside them, cheering all the while. In narrow 'anti cult' circles, these insinuations reached near-legendary heights. I had an exchange about this on Portfolio magazine's web site. They'd run an otherwise unrelated article about Justin Moon and his Kahr handguns. On its appended discussion thread, the shark case came up. (That magazine has gone out of business, but apparently the parent company has attached the web archive, if not the comment threads, to a newer venture.)
In the article's comment section, one anti-cult crusader assured the Portfolio forum that Kevin Thompson had actually caught "thousands of sharks," and thus "was estimated to have brought in millions of dollars." A neat trick, for a high-cost undertaking with a 'product' that retailed for a couple hundred dollars apiece in American shops. (Seems the weekly East Bay Express was the source of this claim, and it shows that left-wing journalists can be good investigators, but would probably make lousy businessmen.)

In regard to the whole notion of prosecuting this case, I have a big gripe. I learned close-up that commercial fishing and the seafood industry are heavily licensed, regulated, and inspected -- by a whole alphabet soup of City, County, Regional, State, and Federal agencies.
For example, in the early 1990s, my workplace at True World was raided by armed NMFS agents. Turns out they were looking for black market abalone. There weren't any, and never had been, so nothing came of it.
Meanwhile, live sharks -- and there probably were some present -- got ignored. (Thompson had rented a small area of True World's industrial complex to set up his shark holding tanks; in an out of the way corner, but in plain sight.)

Kevin Thompson was prosecuted for catching and selling live sharks, not dead ones. Where were all those macho enforcers in the dozen years he was out catching them in broad daylight, and shipping them for open sale in retail aquarium storefronts?
This hobbyist's 2003 blog entry discusses their availability in Michigan. (Apparently, these days, you must register to read those blog entires.) Anyway, sure doesn't sound like anything nefarious.
I guess those agents do have a lot to handle. In one posted account, a Fisheries and Wildlife Service enforcer speaks of her sincere anger, over what she perceived as hypocrisy on Thompson's part. (I have to assume she knows where caviar and roe come from.)

Another thing. Huge sums of money were paid out, with the announced purpose of funding an effort to "restore the damaged habitat" of the leopard shark. The local Bay Area media, despite its decades-long 'negativity' and love of controversy, seemed puzzled over missing details. So was I.
How so? Those sharks dwell in open salt water, and overall, San Francisco Bay has a flat and featureless mud bottom. They bear live young, in that open water. Point is, I wondered what the government intended to restore. I say this as a guy who's spent plenty of enjoyable times at the Sierra Club Lodge in Norden.
[As of 2013, much funding has gone into wetlands restoration, around the bay shores, and reports are that leopard sharks are more common than ever.]

I was present for the Shark Tales sermon in 2003, which has since become rather notorious, after it was widely copied off the BAFC's own web site. At the time it sounded ordinary enough, and in hindsight, seems quite mild. There was no boasting or swaggering going on; no hints of dark and terrible crime. No plotting or scheming was revealed either, just an impromptu conversation between two avid fisherman. (Thompson and Moon.)
Yes there was a technical violation, to which Thompson freely confessed. And he has paid all penalties in full.

A final irony:
Some media people have cast themselves as noble, by editing out a section of that sermon which mentions the location of a shark breeding ground. After so many years, I will mention that it was a sewage treatment plant's outfall pipe, and those sharks love the warmer, nutrient-rich water. As it happens, many environmentalists would love to get rid of the thing . . .

Thanks for your attention,
Paul Carlson

cuebon \at\ aol /dot/ com

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