The former owner of a Sanford boat consignment business is in the Seminole County Jail after investigators said he allegedly sold boats belonging to others and kept the money for himself.
Over the last 10 years, Ralph Smith sold the boats at Tropical Breeze Boating Center without notifying the owners, according to Seminole County deputies. They said he took off with nearly $387,000 intended for 20 victims.
When Wayne Keenan decided to sell his boat, he said he contacted Smith. "We just felt like it was a good business, and we were anxious to sell the boat."
He said Smith told him he could consign his boat and find a good buyer. "He was very personable, he seemed like he knew exactly what he was doing, and everyone around him seemed to have a lot of respect for him. He would call occasionally and tell us he had a buyer and was close to selling it."
But after a year, Keenan decided to go to the business and talk to Smith in person. "We found out there was no Tropical Breeze anymore. They just disappeared," he said.
In some cases, investigators said Smith forged powers of attorney to transfer boat titles.
"They seem to think some of them were sold in South America or over in England," said Keenan. "He falsified all the documents you need in order to sell the boat."
In other cases, investigators said the buyers paid Smith, but never received a boat, or they received the wrong boat.
Keenan said he is out $42,000, and because his loss is considered a form of embezzlement, he said his insurance would not cover it. "We'll never get any money back, but I'd like for them to at least prosecute."
He has some advice to others planning to consign a boat, encouraging them to, "Make sure every document you sign, you read thoroughly." He also recommends that you have a professional review the documents before you sign anything.
Smith, 51, is charged with grand theft. His bond is set at $75,000.