A 39-year-old marine businessman who defrauded three boaters out of nearly $90,000 in boat equipment and repairs agreed to reimburse them in return for a lenient sentence.
Christopher Coomes, of Willow Creek Lane in East Naples, had faced up to 30 years in state prison on each charge of obtaining more than $50,000 in property by fraud, but pleaded no contest today to two counts of obtaining up to $20,000 in property by fraud, a second-degree felony.
Under a plea agreement negotiated by Assistant State Attorney Jim Molenaar and defense attorney Michael Beal, Coomes will serve two years of house arrest followed by two years of probation if he pays $70,000 by his sentencing date, Feb. 18. He’ll use the four-year term to pay off the remaining $18,000.
If he doesn’t pay $70,000 by Feb. 18, Collier Circuit Judge Frank Baker will sentence him to eight years in state prison. In case Coomes doesn’t pay up, the judge ordered a pre-sentence investigation, which is required for first-degree felonies.
Collier County Sheriff’s reports give this account of the crime:
Kenneth Nelson of Naples gave Coomes a $25,000 check for two Honda BF 225 V6-4 Stroke outboard motors for his 28-foot Orca vessel. In June 2006, Nelson received an invoice showing Coomes ordered motors from Marine Supply & Rigging Wholesale.
But an investigation by the sheriff’s Economic Crimes Unit revealed the invoice, which listed no address or phone number, was fraudulent. There was no such business and bank records showed Coomes used Nelson’s money to pay his own debts and make purchases.
In November 2006, Charles Anderson of Naples hired Coomes to maintain his 25-foot VX Hydrasport Vector vessel at The Club of Barefoot Beach, where he’d seen Coomes’ business card posted on a bulletin board.
Anderson lost $26,242.15, including $6,200 for a new boat trailer and $4,430 for a wireless security system, both of which he never received. Coomes also removed a $2,861 marine navigation device, saying he’d store it so it wouldn’t get stolen.
Thomas Parry of Fort Lauderdale paid Coomes $6,500 on April 26, 2007, to rebuild a Rybovich Rybo Runner that was severely damaged during Hurricane Katrina. Coomes said he’d rebuild it for $45,000. The next day, Parry wrote a $17,100 check for parts and labor, then gave Coomes $3,800 a month later. On Sept. 6, 2007, he gave Coomes a $10,000 deposit for twin Evinrude outboard motors he never received.
Coomes never did work on Parry’s boat, which he moved to a remote storage facility in eastern Collier so Parry couldn’t see it. Parry lost about $37,400.