Police charge boat makers with racketeering, saying they stole more than $500,000

Owners took deposits, but never delivered

LARGO, Fla. - The owners of a Pinellas County boat manufacturing company are facing racketeering charges.

Police say they bilked customers, suppliers, landlords and employees out of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

And the I-Team has learned troubling information about the suspects’ pasts.

“I was convinced this was really something wonderful,” said Judy Francisco, describing the boat she and her sister Patricia saved to buy to enjoy in their retirement.

The found that boat at the Tampa Boat Show last year.

“These two fellas had a little boat called the Calypso Skiff and it was $13,950.and I thought wow!” she said.

In describing the men who sold it to her she said, “They were very good fast talkers and they made you want to love them.”

Former powerboat racing champion Andrew Christopher Biddle and Justin Belz  sold boats at shows all over the country.

Calypso Skiff originally opened in a Largo building in January of 2016, but they weren't here long because their landlord evicted them six months later.

That landlord is now suing them for nearly $50,000.

The company then moved to a much larger facility, where the landlord says they didn't pay a dime of rent in six months and didn't even put the water and electric service in their own names.

“Over and over you saw checks that were written on closed accounts and checks that were written on accounts with no funds,” said Doug Templeton, Operations Manager of Pinellas County Consumer Protection.

Francisco paid a $4,000 deposit, but never got a boat.

Neither did other customers.

Investigators say the suspects bought vehicles, molds and motors with bad checks, and didn't pay employees. 

Biddle and Belz are in the Pinellas County Jail, facing more than 40 charges involving $500,000 in thefts.

“Our concern always is that there's other victims out there,” said Templeton.

But their latest arrest is not the first time they've been trouble.

In 2014, they made national news after Belz reported that Biddle fell out of a boat in New Jersey, triggering a massive search.

But their story didn't add up and police became suspicious Biddle faked his own death.

Court documents at the time called Biddle a "wanted person" who "was believed to have staged an incident to avoid prosecution" after  taking deposits for boats he never delivered.

Biddle resurfaced alive and well seven months later, was arrested, posted bond then moved to Florida.

“I hope they hit them with every punishment they can hit them with, because this was so wrong,” said Francisco.

If you have done business with Calypso Skiff and did not receive what you paid for, Pinellas County Consumer Protection wants to hear from you. You can contact them at (727) 464-6200.

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