Lobbyists, charities and a congresswoman rally behind Carnival ahead of criminal case hearing

Carnival Corp. has filed nine letters of support to the federal judge overseeing its criminal case. They are from politicians, business associations and nonprofit organizations, most of whom have close financial ties to the cruise company.

The letters touting Carnival Corp.’s economic impact and charitable donations come ahead of a hearing scheduled for Monday during which U.S. District Judge Patricia Seitz of Miami will review a settlement agreement reached between federal prosecutors and the Miami-based cruise company.

Carnival Corp. is charged with violating its probation, which started in April 2017 after the company paid $40 million as part of its guilty plea for environmental crimes — illegally dumping oily waste into the ocean and covering it up for a period of eight years. The alleged probation violations include falsifying records and illegally dumping plastic into Bahamian waters.

Seitz previously threatened to block Carnival Corp. ships from docking in U.S. ports as punishment for the violations. After she reviews the settlement deal on Monday she will likely either accept it, or reject it and set a probation revocation hearing for a later date. She has ordered Carnival Corp. Chairman Micky Arison and President Arnold Donald to attend the hearing.

Carnival Corp. is the largest cruise company in the world and owns nine cruise brands and 105 ships. In fiscal year 2018, the company reported a profit of $3.2 billion.

The letters, filed Saturday, came two days after Judge Seitz publicized 10 letters she has received from private citizens, most of them asking that Carnival be held accountable for its actions. Two environmentalists, one a resident of the Bahamas and one from Alaska, as well as an Alaskan fisherman, also filed a motion, asking to be recognized as victims of the Miami-based cruise company’s environmental crimes.

In the newest batch of letters supporting Carnival Corp., Alaskan Gov. Michael Dunleavy asked Seitz to consider the direct impact of the industry on Alaska’s economy when making her decision. Nearly half of all tourist visitors to Alaska in 2017 came on cruise ships.

Dunleavy noted Alaska’s strict environmental laws for cruises, calling them “tough but fair.” Still, Dunleavy has moved to roll back some of Alaska’s stringent oversight. Recently, he introduced a bill to the Alaska state senate to repeal a program that places Coast Guard-trained observers on cruise ships to monitor environmental operations and discharges. Dunleavy’s attorney general, Kevin Clarkson, sent a similar letter Friday.

Democratic Congresswoman Frederica Wilson of South Florida offered her thoughts on Carnival’s Corp. leadership and how it has given back to the community. In recent years, the company has made sizable donations to Big Brothers Big Sisters of Miami, Hurricane Irma relief efforts and Jackson Memorial Hospital’s Holtz Children’s Hospital.

Wilson accepted $5,400 from Carnival Corp. during her 2018 reelection campaign. She also accepted $7,000 from Cruise Lines International Association, the cruise industry lobby organization. Carnival Corp. chairman Arison and president Donald sit on CLIA’s executive board.

Alfred Sanchez, president and CEO of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce, highlighted Carnival Corp.’s donations to schools, Big Brothers Big Sisters and Florida International University. Sanchez said the Chamber supports the cruise company.

The current chair of the chamber Carlos Orta is the vice president of corporate affairs at Carnival Corp. The cruise company is listed as a top investor on the chamber’s website and is sponsoring a dinner at the organization’s annual event in mid-June.

Roger Dow, president of the travel industry’s lobby organization, U.S. Travel Association, said Carnival Corp. plays a key role in the success of the industry. “Anything that helps the Carnival Corporation grow is a net positive for American jobs and prosperity,” his letter to Seitz reads.

President of Carnival Cruise Line Christine Duffy is the first vice chair of the U.S. Travel Association.

In its letter addressed to Seitz, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Miami said its programs would suffer “devastating effects” if Carnival ships were not able to dock at PortMiami. Carnival Corp. donated $5 million to Big Brothers Big Sisters of Miami in 2015 to build its new headquarters, and provides scholarships for some of its mentees.

The Seafarers’ House Port Everglades, which cares for cruise and cargo ship workers when they come into the port, has received more than $1 million from Carnival Corp., according to its letter addressed to Seitz, and said its continued operation is tied to the company being able to dock at Port Everglades.

In its letter to Seitz, La Jolla Play House, a theater in La Jolla, California, thanked Holland America Line, one of Carnival Corp.’s cruise brands, for its financial support. Holland America Line donated $15,000 to the theater in the last season, according to the organization’s website.

Carnival Corp. also filed a letter from American Cancer Society addressed to Holland America Line thanking the company for its charitable donations. The letter did not mention the pending criminal case.

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