MARCO ISLAND — A Collier judge threw out a criminal fraud case against Cedar Bay Yacht Club's former general manager after his lawyer proved he didn't steal a club member's 21-foot powerboat, sell it and pocket the money.
Circuit Judge Frank Baker granted a motion to dismiss the fraud charge against Scott Gary Hopkins, 42, after defense attorney Michelle Hill argued he wasn't involved and that the alleged victim hadn't paid the Marco Island marina for repair fees, was warned his boat would be auctioned, but did nothing to stop it.
"There were tons of allegations, but no proof of anything," Hill said. "None of it is supported by facts. I don't know how they charged him."
Hill believes Hopkins was charged only because he went with Marco police officers to Calusa Island Marina, near Goodland, to get the boat so it could be sold.
Hopkins, who lost his $80,000 yearly job, contended he was a scapegoat to cover deeper financial and management troubles at the marina, which is embroiled in 10 lawsuits in Collier and Palm Beach counties.
"There were never any grounds for the charges to be filed, period," Hopkins said of his arrest in September, two months after he was terminated. "It was baloney."
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He believes management wanted to force him to accept a plea deal to bolster allegations in a lawsuit that the marina filed against him two weeks after his arrest.
"If I was such a criminal, why would they pay my unemployment and vacation pay?" he asked.
Attorneys involved in the lawsuits and Hank Kassigkeit, the marina's director, couldn't be reached for comment.
As for the dismissed criminal case, Collier County sheriff's reports provide this account:
In January 2009, Joseph Fidler, 56, of Swampscott, Mass., reported that Hopkins used intimidation and fraud to take a 21-foot 2005 Hurricane Runabout boat 1½ years earlier. Fidler had stored it at Cedar Bay since February 2007, but that April, the marina sent a letter saying it was converting to a boat condo storage facility that June so his monthly rental contract wasn't being renewed.
Five days later, he moved his boat to Calusa Island Marina and returned to Massachusetts. But in August 2007, he said Hopkins told him he had his boat and it would cost $7,000 to get it back or they'd sell it.
That month, Cedar Bay obtained title to the boat and Hopkins was accused of sending it to Caloosa Isle Boat and Yacht Sales in Fort Myers, which sold it for $24,000 that October.
However, the motion to dismiss says Hopkins wasn't involved with the title or auction. It alleges Cedar Bay did repairs on Fidler's boat, but he never paid up, despite repeated demands, so Cedar Bay hired a company to obtain the title to sell it.
Hopkins said he was threatened and had to move his family to Houston.
He sued Cedar Bay over the loss of his salary and benefits, but Cedar Bay sued him and two other managers fired last summer. They're accused in the suits of doctoring documents in November 2007, giving Hopkins and another manager larger boat slips with higher values than slips they'd purchased.
Hopkins, who often was seen cleaning up around Keewaydin Island with his boat Team Ocean, said the ordeal damaged his good name.
"I'm known for giving back to the community," he said. "That's who I am."