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Customers accuse Florida boat-transport company of fraud

Customers say a Florida boat transport company that filed for bankruptcy continued to take thousands of dollars to transport boats it never moved.

That’s according to a report in the Tampa Bay Times that said customers around the country had been bilked out of thousands of dollars by Lutz-based Able Boat Transport.

One California couple paid $5,000 to have their boat shipped across the country, but it was never picked up. A Nevada man says he lost $33,000.

Now customers tell the paper they can't reach Able Boat, which filed last month for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. The company's phone is disconnected and its website is down.

Jonathon Cherner, of Maryland, sent Able Boat $1,700 in August for an October pickup that he now suspects was never going to happen because in the meantime, Able Boat filed bankruptcy, listing $72,000 in liabilities — including Cherner's payment.

Able Boat was formed in 2007 and served as a broker between customers and companies that have the equipment to move large boats.

It is co-owned by Jeffrey Helman and Georgienne Bell, a Lutz couple, records show.

The company has done good work in the past, Cherner said. He used it last year to move a 30-foot center console boat.

In court filings the company listed $1.1 million in profits in 2010 and $1 million in 2011.

It's unclear how often customers left dissatisfied. However, the bankruptcy lists 30 entities to whom the company owes money.

Helman, 37, told the Tampa Bay paper that he never took money for services that weren’t rendered.

He said Able Boat refused to transport boats only when the pickup people showed up at the dock and discovered that the boats were larger than customers had reported.

"I'm sure they're a little bit upset," he said in court, according to the paper. "But we got there and their boats were not the dimensions we were told. They lost their money."

He said Able Boat did not return payment in those cases because it costs the company money to send a truck and driver to the pickup site.

Click here for the full report.

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