A Florida boat dealer faced a courtroom full of angry customers on Thursday who accused him of stealing from them, but he avoided jail time after promising to repay $312,000.
Ralph Duwayne Smith, 52, of the Tropical Breeze Boating Center in Sanford, pleaded no contest in October to selling two dozen boats on consignment, but withholding the proceeds from sellers, according to the Orlando Sentinel.
Circuit Judge Kenneth Lester Jr. sentenced Smith to 15 years of prison and then suspended it, provided that Smith repays his victims and serves 10 years on probation.
Smith paid $15,000 on Thursday and promised to make a $2,476 payment each month for the next 10 years until his victims are made whole.
Seven years ago, Smith’s brother, Earl Smith Jr., was sentenced to five years of probation for stealing $750,000 worth of boats by doing the same thing at his dealership, Aquamarine USA Inc. Ralph Smith was sales manager there at the time.
On Thursday, Ralph Smith apologized from the witness stand, saying he opened his business in 2007 and, within months, the economy went into a recession. Lenders stopped making boat loans and he was desperate to keep his business going.
Marie Buettner, a Winter Springs widow, testified that she enlisted Smith to sell her late husband’s $55,000 boat, but never saw any money. Mike Keenan, 71, of Malabar, testified that Smith sold his $34,000, 28-foot boat on consignment, but he, too, went unpaid.
Customers lodged a variety of complaints. Some said Smith sold their boats, but did not pay them. Others were buyers who said they sent him money, but did not get a boat, got the wrong boat or got a boat but no title.