CLEARWATER, Fla. (WFLA) – Although customers of Gulf Coast Boat Sales are pleased to learn the two men who were at the top of the company have been arrested, they question why the investigation took so long.
Rick Weaver was the first of dozens to turn to Better Call Behnken in 2017, seeking help getting the attention of law enforcement. Victims claim they either bought new boats they didn’t get, received boats with no title or consigned boats and didn’t get paid.
“It was so good to have somebody like you to go to because you know who to contact and how to find out what’s going on,” Weaver said. “And when people hear from you, they know they have to do something, they can’t just ignore the case. so I really appreciated you guys being there for us.”
John Hartnett, the owner of defunct Gulf Coast Boat Sales, was arrested Wednesday afternoon and charged with two felony counts of money laundering and scheme to defraud. His general manager, James Laden, was also arrested and charged with a scheme to defraud. The state attorney’s office claims victims lost around $800,000.
Hartnett posted bond of $350,000. Laden’s request for a lower bond was denied and he remains in jail.
The arrests follow a Better Call Behnken investigation into why dozens of customers who did business with the company either ended up with boats they couldn’t use because they didn’t have titles or they were never paid for their boats that were sold as consignment deals.
When customers turned to Investigator Shannon Behnken, many said they were told this was a civil matter. But after multiple BCB reports, the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office looked deeper.
A prosecutor for the state attorney’s office says this was a complicated case and that is why it took years to investigate.
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