In an unusual deal that angered some but steers him clear of prison, the captain of the Staten Island ferry involved in the fatal October 2003 crash has agreed to cooperate with federal prosecutors in return for a possible dismissal of all criminal charges.
The deal announced yesterday in federal court in Brooklyn calls for prosecutors to defer and then drop the prosecution of Capt. Michael Gansas in return for his cooperation in trials against ferry management.
Gansas agreed to surrender his maritime licenses for at least three years and perform 200 hours of community service. He was fired in November.
If he abides by the terms, federal prosecutors said, they will suspend their case against him for the three years. If he cooperates, they will move to drop the indictment.
A subdued Gansas pleaded not guilty to a one-count indictment accusing him of lying to investigators after the crash, which took 11 lives and injured scores of passengers aboard the Andrew J. Barberi. Moments later, Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Frisch announced the cooperation agreement.
In his deal, Gansas admitted he lied to investigators.
"Today's agreement ... is a first step in attempting to rectify this mistake," defense attorney Robert Morvillo said in a statement afterward.
Deferred prosecutions are "extraordinarily rare," said former federal prosecutor Michael Rosen, who said he had seen three in 40 years of practice.
"It is obvious they need his testimony," said Manhattan defense attorney Ron Fischetti, who termed the agreement "a sweetheart deal" for Gansas.
Gansas was indicted July 27 on charges that he lied to Coast Guard investigators after the Barberi crashed.
He falsely claimed he was in the Staten Island-end pilothouse at the time and saw ferry pilot Richard Smith pass out, the indictment stated. Smith pleaded guilty last month to seaman's manslaughter.
Morvillo told reporters that Gansas was in the New York, or rear, pilothouse just before the crash and then "raced to the Staten Island pilothouse" after the crash.
Once vilified by his refusal to talk in depth, Gansas is now seen by the U.S. Attorney's Office as a key to its prosecution of city ferry managers.
Among the key targets of federal prosecutors is ferry director Patrick Ryan, who was charged with 11 counts of seaman's manslaughter.
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