The old Cap'n Buddy sported flashy rings as he crowed about his good fortune. A Rolex on his wrist, he covered his feet in snakeskin boots and boasted on a homemade Internet video that he's "old and bold and full of gold."
Today the captain is a little less full.
After a two-year sting operation in which federal agents posed as law-breaking hunters, 73-year-old Levin Faulkner Harrison III pleaded guilty yesterday to overseeing the illegal killing of Canada geese in excess of the daily limit.
A federal magistrate judge in Baltimore imposed a $5,000 fine on the self-described "Boss Hogg of Tilghman Island." She also ordered Harrison to contribute $675 to a wildlife fund and took away his commercial hunter guide license.
The hunting violations were nothing new for Harrison, who is descended from a family of the island's largest private landowners yet introduces himself as the fun-lovin' Cap'n Buddy. He has had six prior misdemeanor convictions for breaking laws designed to protect fishing and oystering in the Chesapeake Bay, lawyers said.
One prosecutor called him "a bit of a scofflaw."
Yet Harrison again avoided prison time. He could have faced a maximum penalty of six months behind bars and a $15,000 fine, but that wasn't part of the "Buddy Plan" - also the name of his old boat.
"The government does not believe that's necessary to deter Mr. Harrison," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Romano, who recommended the no-prison sentence as part of a plea agreement.
Magistrate Judge Beth P. Gesner agreed but warned Harrison that he risked time behind bars if he breaks game laws again.
"You can't do that anymore," Gesner chided. "I hope you take this seriously."
Harrison remained somewhat defiant after the hearing in U.S. District Court in Baltimore yesterday. Dressed in a blue suit with decidedly less bling, Harrison explained that his online video caught the attention of federal agents who eventually charged him with hunting violations.
"They thought I had money so they come after me," he said.
The music video called "Laugh Your Bass Off" and posted on goodoleboysoutdoors.com (registration required) shows Harrison sniffing a wad of hundred-dollar bills.
"Cap'n Buddy's my name, fishin' my game," he says on the video while bikini-clad women dance behind him on his boat.
Later, he jokes on the video, "It ain't never easy being me."
His lawyers, Andrew C. White and Roy B. Cowdrey Jr., argued that characterizing Harrison as a chronic lawbreaker was unfair.
"I don't think that's an accurate reflection of the man," Cowdrey said, adding that Harrison had been held ultimately responsible before for the misdeeds of his employees.
The attorneys said the length and breadth of the undercover investigation surprised them for a plea that ended with a single misdemeanor conviction.
"They flew the agents in from Texas," Cowdrey said.
Harrison and his business had originally been charged with six counts; five were dropped as part of the plea agreement. After the hearing, Cowdrey eventually stopped a reporter from asking follow-up questions about the future of Harrison's businesses, which he said, by the way, will be fine.
For more than 50 years, Harrison has fished the bay while overseeing a processing plant, an inn, a restaurant and a fleet of charter boats. So famous was his family's Harrison's Chesapeake House that island diners included presidents and senators.
A larger-than-life character on the 3-mile-long island, he took to the roads in a camouflage Hummer and upgraded his 50-foot charter boat, Buddy Plan, to the 62-foot Capt. Buddy.
In the late 1980s, according to reports in The Sun, he and several partners built the $20 million Harrison's Pier V at the Inner Harbor. The partnership defaulted in the mid-1990s and the city took over.
But in the eyes of gaming wardens, Harrison is now more infamous than famous.
According to police and court records, Harrison has been fined for violating state fishing regulations at least three times in the past 13 years.
In 1993, Harrison was found guilty of possession of striped bass out of season and fined $3,500, with $1,500 suspended. But the captain had friends in high places.
The governor wrote a letter to the judge praising Harrison's character, and the Department of Natural Resources secretary at the time testified for the defense. Harrison also was fined for illegal possession of striped bass in 1999 and 2000.
In July 2006, the Maryland Natural Resources Police said an officer caught Harrison again, this time with undersize striped bass at his seafood processing plant.
In court papers filed in yesterday's federal case, undercover U.S. Fish and Wildlife agents contacted Harrison's Country Inn and Sport Fishing Center in late 2005. The two agents put down a deposit for a day of goose hunting at $185 apiece.
When they arrived at 6:30 a.m. on Jan. 12, 2006, the agents drove to the designated farm field in Bozman, followed by Harrison in his Hummer.
The license plate read CPBUDDY.