The owner of Hudson River Rafting Company has been fined $25,000 for sending customers on whitewater trips without a licensed guide—violating a court order just a few days after reopening his business following earlier legal troubles.
Supreme Court Justice Richard Giardino found Pat Cunningham, owner of the North Creek business, guilty of contempt of court, in a decision dated December 3.
Hudson River Rafting sent customers on trips with an unlicensed guide at least five times in July and August. In each instance, the guide put in the river at railroad tracks near the hamlet of North River. The rapids there are not as big as in the Hudson Gorge, but the first part of the trip takes place on a stretch of river where state law requires companies to provide licensed guides.
The contempt-of-court action was commenced by the office of New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman after a forest ranger saw one of Cunningham’s rafts on the Hudson captained by an unlicensed guide. Further investigation turned up four other violations, all involving the same guide.
In 2012, Schneiderman filed suit against Cunningham accusing him of running an unsafe business. He sought to shut Hudson River Rafting permanently, but Giardino ruled in May that Cunningham could resume operations under certain conditions, among them that he deploy only licensed rafting guides on trips where required by state law.
In his May ruling, Giardino also required Cunningham to post a $50,000 performance bond before reopening. In a footnote to the latest decision, the judge says the attorney general’s office received a letter on July 3 affirming the existence of the bond. Thus, Cunningham was allowed to reopen. On July 5, just two days later, he violated the court order. Giardino said he found this “deeply troubling” and took it into account in setting the fine.
According to the ruling, Cunningham did not dispute that the five trips started at the railroad tracks, but he said most of the trip takes place on a stretch of the Hudson where no guides are required.
Cunningham was fined $5,000 for each violation, the maximum allowable.
Photo by Phil Brown: Rafters and inner-tubers drift through mild rapids on the Hudson near the hamlet of North River. The raft shown is not one of Pat Cunningham’s.