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Trego pleads guilty for threat to seal volunteer

The courts were expected to decide this week whether the rope barrier at La Jolla’s Children’s Pool will remain up through the remainder of the harbor seals’ pupping season.

Meanwhile, Kent Trego, a well-known advocate of shared use by humans and seals at Children’s Pool, who was a frequent letter writer on the issue in the local press, pled guilty April 17 in San Diego federal court to threatening a volunteer of the Animal Protection and Rescue League (APRL). He pled guilty to a charge of threatening to retaliate against a federal witness.

Earlier this year, the federal court ordered the controversial rope barrier at Children’s Pool, which separates humans from the marine mammals, to be put back up during the mammals’ annual pupping season at Children’s Pool, which starts in mid-December and runs through the end of May. That court order was given pending an appeal brought by the APRL challenging a previous Superior Court ruling mandating that the pool, created in 1931 by Ellen Brown Scripps as a safe wading pool for children, be dredged and sand removed in order to return it to the condition it was in in 1941 when humans and harbor seals shared the waters there.

The hearing on whether the rope barrier will remain up through the remainder of the animal’s pupping season had been postponed from the previous week.

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“It was like a circus,” is how Bryan Pease, APRL attorney, characterized proceedings at the first postponed hearing on the Children’s Pool rope barrier.

Pease talked about the legal reasoning behind the appeal he has filed on behalf of the APRL challenging the court ruling requiring sand to be dredged from Children’s Pool.

“We’re saying that under the MMPA, the city has to to put the rope up. We’re saying that the lawsuit doesn’t prevent the city from doing that. Hopefully, we’ll be able to protect the seals.”

Mark Adams, Trego’s attorney, said his client’s sentencing date has been set for July 7.

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“We’re trying to get him out on bail,” said Adams, about what’s going to happen to Trego between now and then. Trego has been held without bail since he was arrested March 7 following an indictment by a federal grand jury three days earlier.

Trego admitted in court that, on Sept. 22, 2007, he accompanied two scuba divers onto the beach at Children’s Pool.

The divers caused approximately 50 harbor seals to flush into the water when they entered the pool, which was witnessed by an APRL volunteer who videotaped the scene. After the divers entered the water the APRL volunteer recorded the license number of their vehicle.

Trego at that point had a verbal exchange with the APRL volunteer who later reported the entire transaction to federal law enforcement agents of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

After an investigation, the two divers were identified and ticketed for misdemeanor violations of the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA). On Jan. 11, 2008, using a public computer at La Jolla’s Riford Library, Trego composed and sent threatening e-mails to the APRL suggesting revenge would be exacted on the organization for the role it played in having the scuba divers cited. The APRL reported the threatening transmission to federal authorities who began an investigation.

A plea bargain agreement has been struck between Trego and the federal court, said his attorney, Adams. “The government will be recommending a probationary-type sentence,” said Adams. “He will spend some of the time in custody, and some of the time in community confinement.”

Adams said community confinement is similar to house arrest.

Asked whether he felt his client received just treatment, Adams answered, “It’s premature to answer that. I don’t know how it’s all going - it’s a volatile situation.”

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Dorota Valli, a co-defendant in the seal lawsuit seeking to overturn sand dredging of Children’s Pool, said this has been a very successful year for birthing seal pups at the controversial pool. “We had 42 pups born,” said Valli. “The last pup was born on April 5.”

Valli credited the rope barrier being up as a major factor in the success of the marine mammals’ pupping season. “When the rope is up the majority of people respect the seals,” she said. “It’s been a wonderful improvement. There were very few harassment incidents. It’s pretty much calmed down.”