Pinellas detectives charge two with scheme to defraud

John Daniel Hartnett, left, and James Edward Laden

Detectives with the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Economic Crimes Unit made two arrests April 6 in connection with a case involving a scheme to defraud and money laundering.

John Daniel Hartnett, 64, of Dunedin and James Edward Laden, 39, of New Port Richey were booked into the county jail. Hartnett was charged with one count of scheme to defraud and one count of money laundering. Bail was set at $350,000. Laden was charged with one count of scheme to defraud. Bail was set at $100,000.

According to detectives, Hartnett owned and operated Gulf Coast Boat Sales, 37517 U.S. 19 N. in Palm Harbor. Laden was listed as the general manager of the business. The 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 at 120 Pickney Street in Oldsmar. The business specializes in the manufacturing of new pontoon boats, which it sells them directly to the public through dealers, to include Gulf Coast Boat Sales.

Detectives say from May of 2015 to late 2017, 56 complaints were received by the sheriff’s office from individuals and businesses claiming they were systematically defrauded of their property through fraudulent pretenses and willful misrepresentations. This resulted in a monetary loss of approximately $800,000.

During the investigation, detectives learned that some of the victims provided their boats and or trailers to be sold on consignment and were not compensated and their property was not returned. Victims also provided money to Gulf Coast Boat Sales to purchase a new boat, but never received a boat or their money back. Detectives say some of the victims did not receive a title after their purchases and were unable to register their boats.

Detectives also say they discovered that 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. Funds laundered from all victims exceeded $100,000 in a 12 month period.