PINELLAS COUNTY, FL. – Detectives assigned to the Economic Crimes Unit have arrested 67-year-old John Harnett and 39-year-old James Laden for Scheme to Defraud and Money Laundering.
According to detectives, Hartnett owned and operated Gulf Coast Boat Sales, located at 37517 US Highway 19 North in Palm Harbor. Laden was listed as the general manager of the business.
The boat dealership sold new boats from third-party manufacturers, used boats, and consigned boats that would be left by their owners. The boats would be sold by the dealership for an agreed-upon price, with a commission going to the dealership.
Detectives say Hartnett also owned and operated BeachCat Boat LLC, a boat manufacturing business, located at 120 Pickney Street in Oldsmar. The business specializes in the manufacturing of new pontoon boats and sells them directly to the public through dealers, to include Gulf Coast Boat Sales.
According to detectives, from May of 2015 to late 2017, 56 complaints were received by the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office from individuals and businesses, stating they were systematically defrauded of their property through fraudulent pretenses and willful misrepresentations. This resulted in a monetary loss of approximately $800,000.
Throughout the investigation, detectives learned some of the victims provided their boats and or trailers to be sold on consignment and they were never compensated or received their property back.
Victims also provided money to Gulf Coast Boat Sales to purchase a new boat, however never received a boat or their money back. Detectives say some of the victims were not able to register their new purchased boats due to never receiving the titles after purchase.
Through various investigative techniques, detectives discovered Hartnett took the victim’s money from the Gulf Coast Boat business account and illegally deposited it into his personal account by funneling it through the operating account for BeachCat Boat LLC. The total funds laundered from all of the victims exceeded $100,000 in a 12 month period.
On April 6, 2022, Hartnett and Laden were arrested and charged with one count Scheme to Defraud. Hartnett received an additional charge of one count Money Laundering.
Both men were transported to the Pinellas County Jail without incident.