Plattsburgh man pleads guilty to fishing derby fraud

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Craig Provost changed his plea to guilty in Vermont Superior Court this afternoon for taking home thousands of dollars in derby prize money that wasn’t his. (Photo by Kaylee Sullivan)

Plattsburgh angler Craig Provost changed his plea to guilty in Chittenden County Superior Court today for taking home thousands of dollars in prize money last year for a winning fish that wasn’t his.

For almost a year after he participated in the 2015 Lake Champlain International Father’s Day Derby, Provost held the record for his winning walleye catch, which weighed in at 10.26 pounds.

Provost later admitted to weighing in his teammate’s fish using “cash extras” he purchased before the derby.

Colchester police arrested him on June 14 for false pretenses, a misdemeanor charge. He pleaded not guilty at his arraignment on July 28 but changed his plea at a calendar call Wednesday afternoon.

Court records show Provost’s teammates James Braid – the fish’s original owner – and Kyle Laporte said Provost pressured them to go along with the plan.

The three men then split the tournament’s $13,500 prize money after $2,700 went toward taxes, CPD Sgt. Michael Fish’s affidavit says. Provost told police Braid and Laporte each took about $3,500, which defense attorney Sandra Lee said the two men have since paid back.

Provost, however, has more to pay – $6,506 in restitution to cover his share of the prize money and what went to taxes, plus a $147 fine, court documents show. He was sentenced to 3-6 months of probation and ordered to complete 50 hours of community service.

The conditions are part of a restorative justice process, LCI executive director James Ehlers said. Provost must complete them within six months, but he told Judge Gregory Rainville he plans to do so “ASAP.”

Initially, Provost faced a maximum possible sentence of up to 10 years in prison and a $2,000 fine.

Ehlers said the restitution money will go to the Essex Reparative Justice Board and then directly to the other 2015 tournament winners at LCI’s urging. Second-place angler Bill McSweeney of Milton now moves to first place in LCI’s record books, and Ehlers said McSweeney will receive all of Provost’s $6,506 in restitution.

Efforts to reach McSweeney Wednesday night were unsuccessful.

Braid and Laporte’s restitution money will be distributed to the other top 10 walleye winners, Lee said.

Ehlers stressed the integrity of the annual derby is a priority. Though this year’s event occurred the weekend after Provost’s arrest, it was not affected by last year’s fraud, Ehlers said in June.

“We’re really pleased that justice has been served,” Ehlers said. “We’re disappointed it ever occurred, but we’re extremely grateful to the Colchester police, all members of the public who cooperated and assisted in the investigation and the state’s attorney’s office for being able to make the other anglers a whole.”