PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. - Federal agents have indicted 12 people accused of stealing boats up and down Florida's west coast, including Pinellas County, and then attempting to transport them to Mexico.
According to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the suspects, who lived in Naples and Miam,i stole at least 11 vessels worth millions of dollars. Two of the boats were taken from waterfront homes in Pinellas County, including a 41' 2005 Luhrs Sportfish Convertible from St. Pete Beach and a 34' 2008 Fountain from Tierra Verde.
The thefts happened as far south as Collier County and as far north as Pinellas County between June 2007 and August 2010.
"Community boat owners should be able to enjoy the Florida waterways without fearing that their worthy possessions are going to be stolen by individuals who are driven by greed and whose mission is to conduct criminal activities at the expense of others," said Susan McCormick, special agent in charge of ICE HSI in Tampa.
Agents say the investigation into the theft ring began in 2007 in response to a dramatic increase in thefts of luxury vessels from Southwest Florida.
Each defendant is charged with conspiracy to transport stolen vessels in foreign commerce and nine counts of transporting stolen vessels. If convicted, each faces a maximum penalty of five years in federal prison on the conspiracy count and ten years on each of the nine remaining counts, for a total of 95 years.
U.S. Attorney A. Brian Albritton says teamwork played a big part in the big bust. "The high level of cooperation among federal, state, and local agencies on this major investigation has significantly impacted what was a wideranging network of criminals operating from our docks and waterways. I commend all the members of the Island Runners task force in responding so thoroughly to a problem that has plagued numerous Middle District of Florida residents and that had the potential to affect not only our people and property but the reputation of Southwest Florida as a major boating destination."
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