Victims Ask Why Pinellas County Boat Sale Fraud Investigation Took 5 Years

CLEARWATER, Fla. (WFLA) – Although Gulf Coast Boat Sales customers are thrilled to hear that the two men who ran the company have been arrested, they wonder why the investigation has taken so long.

Rick Weaver was the first of a dozen to turn to Better Call Behnken in 2017, seeking help in getting the attention of law enforcement. Victims claim that they bought new boats that they did not have, that they received boats without a title or that they consigned boats and were not paid.

“It was so nice to have someone like you to go to because you know who to contact and how to know what’s going on,” Weaver said. “And when people hear about you, they know they have to do something, they can’t just ignore the case. so I really appreciated that you were there for us.

John Hartnett, the owner of the defunct Gulf Coast Boat Sales, was arrested Wednesday afternoon and charged with two counts of money laundering and scheme fraud. Its managing director, James Laden, was also arrested and charged with fraud. The state’s attorney’s office says the victims lost about $800,000.

Hartnett posted $350,000 bond. Laden’s request for a lower bond was denied and he remains in jail.

The arrests follow an investigation by Better Call Behnken into why dozens of customers who did business with the company ended up with boats they couldn’t use because they didn’t have titles or that they were never paid for their boats which were sold on consignment. .

When clients turned to investigator Shannon Behnken, many said they had been told it was a civil matter. But after several reports from the BCB, the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office investigated further.

A prosecutor with the state’s attorney’s office said it was a complicated case and that’s why it took years to investigate.

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