Repo team twice grabs wrong boat

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A couple enjoying a quiet night on their boat in the Florida Keys were rousted from bed when a repo team cut the dock lines and water hose, disconnected the shore power and began towing them away from the dock.

Not only were the couple still below as their Magnum 40 Sport Cruiser — appropriately named Magnum — inched away from the dock, but the night raiders had grabbed the wrong boat.

Same year, 1984. Same make and model. Wrong Coast Guard documentation number. Wrong hull identification number, which was clearly visible in white on the green transom.

"We were kidnapped; we were hijacked," says Walter Dethier, 65, of Warren, Conn.

Dethier, a semiretired auto racer and publicist, was asleep, and his wife, Joann, was watching television when the power went out at about 10:30 p.m. last November. At first, they thought it was a blown fuse or a power outage. Then they heard the thump of power cables dumped onto the foredeck. Dethier ran topside, leaped six feet across the water onto the dock, and confronted three black-clad figures. Two others were in a tow boat. Magnum's bow line already was secured to its bitt.

Advised that it was a repossession, an outraged Dethier wouldn't let the men take the boat. The Magnum was free of liens and mortgages, paid for by check seven years earlier, he says.

Meanwhile, a neighbor — retired police officer Lawrence MacDuff — heard the commotion, joined Dethier on the dock, and asked to see documents authorizing the repossession. A sheriff's incident report says one of the team responded that the men didn't need any paperwork. Advised that sheriff's deputies were on the way to straighten things out, the repo team scattered, according to the police account.

On Jan. 22, the Dethiers were back home in Connecticut when they got a phone call from an agitated Candi MacDuff, dockmaster at Marina del Mar, reporting that a team claiming to be repo agents had cut Magnum's dock lines and water hose, disconnected the power cables, and was towing the boat away.

This time they showed paperwork authorizing the repossession, though as it became evident later the authorization was for a 40-foot Magnum with a different name, HIN and documentation number than the boat they were taking.

Police reports identified Fort Lauderdale-based National Marine Liquidators as the company that attempted both snatches for Wachovia Bank, and Jason M. Barroncini as the repo team leader.

National Marine's recovery log for the case clearly shows the Magnum they were looking for had a different name, different owner and different hull identification number than the Dethiers' Magnum. Both Jason Lessnau, head of National Marine's repo division, and repo team leader Barroncini say they couldn't comment on specifics of the case. The Monroe County state's attorney's office decided not to file theft charges since "there was no intent to steal the vessel or hijack the victims," according to the police report.

An attorney for the Dethiers has demanded that National Liquidators pay for damages. Dethier also has filed a complaint with the Florida Department of Agriculture, which licenses repossession agents.

"This vigilante attitude of cutting and slicing and stealing in the night in black clothing and with unmarked vehicles is positively ludicrous," says Dethier. "The simple fact is my wife and I have been terrorized by this company."

See the July issue of Soundings, Trade Only's sister publication, for more on this story.

— Jim Flannery

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