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April 08, 2009

Fishing boat title fraud scheme sinks 3 Port Charlotte men

The vessel was damaged in Hurricane Charley and declared a total loss by insurers...
By Fwc

A title fraud scheme to hide the identity of an extensively refurbished 24-foot fishing boat was torpedoed by investigators with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).  

FWC investigators filed eight felony charges in Charlotte County against local boat manufacturer William Andrew "Andy" Frost (DOB 05/21/56) and two contractors, Raymond James Smith (DOB 10/02/62) and Wayne Kerry (DOB 01/30/64) for falsifying sales records and altering the hull identification number (HIN) on the craft, damaged in August 2004 by Hurricane Charley. 

Smith, of 137 Graham St. S.E., Port Charlotte, is charged with selling a vessel with a falsified title, obtaining a falsified manufacturer's statement of origin (MSO), filing a false application for title, knowingly receiving money by means of an unlawfully obtained title and selling a vessel with an altered, removed, destroyed, covered or defaced HIN. 

Frost, of 154 Dartmouth Drive, Port Charlotte, is charged with issuing a falsified MSO; knowingly selling a vessel with an altered, removed or destroyed HIN; and destroying, removing, altering, covering or defacing an HIN.

Kerry, of 175 Palmetto Circle, Port Charlotte, is charged with operating a vessel without display of its HIN, using a forged certificate of title and filing a false application for title.

According to FWC reports, in mid-September 1999, Smith purchased a new 24-foot fishing boat from Shallow Draft Boats.  The green-colored vessel was damaged in Hurricane Charley and declared a total loss by insurers, who paid $34,000 on the claim.  Smith then purchased the vessel back from the insurance company for $5,000.

Investigators said Smith eventually had Frost refurbish the boat and paint it yellow. Frost owns Reaction Marine, which builds and manufactures fiberglass vessels.  Frost reportedly also conspired with Smith to provide him with a fictitious MSO, dated April 1, 2007 and an HIN that described the boat as a new 2007 Reaction.  Frost provided a bill of sale to Smith for $5,000, the cost of the refurbishing.

On April 24, 2007, Smith titled the boat, fictitiously listing it as a vessel built by Reaction Marine.

On the same day, Smith sold the boat to Kerry for $40,000, half in cash and half bartered in the form of framing work on Smith's house. Kerry listed the purchase price on the application for certificate of title as $5,000.

On Feb. 10, 2008, Kerry called 911 to report a vessel fire on the Myakka River in the area of Hog Island. The vessel burned to the waterline.        

On Feb. 11, 2008, Gerald Smith with US Tow Boat inspected the vessel with insurance adjusters and recognized it as a vessel built by Shallow Draft.  Gerald Smith attempted to locate the HIN but observed a filler material where the HIN should have been. He called the FWC with his findings.

A subsequent inspection of the vessel on Feb. 14, 2008, by Lt. Steve Mevers, an experienced FWC investigator, confirmed that the original HIN had been defaced and was unreadable.  An FWC investigation followed and investigators contacted the insurer.  In spite of the evidence of fraud, insurers paid Kerry's $60,000 claim.

FWC investigators filed charges with the state attorney in Charlotte County.  Officers booked Frost and Kerry into the Charlotte County Jail on April, 2, and arrested Smith April 6, 2009.  The FWC's lead investigator in the case, Larry Jernstedt, has forwarded information on the scheme to the Florida Department of Revenue.