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Deputies: Former TradeWinds officials embezzled $782,000

ST. PETE BEACH — A pair of men who were fired last year from senior-level positions with the TradeWinds Island Resorts were arrested Wednesday on charges that they embezzled nearly $800,000 from their employer over a five-year period.

Sam Baage, 58, the TradeWinds' former chief financial officer, conspired to steal the funds with Harold James, 46, the resort's former director of information technology, according to Pinellas County sheriff's officials.

The complaint of a "possible theft" came in November 2011, authorities said. In the months that followed, detectives found that Baage and James created several fictitious corporations, which they registered with the state of Florida.

From 2007 to 2012, the pair used the fake corporations to repeatedly bill the TradeWinds for various services that the resort never received, authorities said. All together, they stole $782,018, which they used "to lead very comfortable lifestyles," sheriff's officials said in a news release.

Baage and James were both fired from the TradeWinds in February 2012, officials said, apparently after the theft was discovered.

Baage subsequently got a job at the Setai, a high-end resort in Miami Beach. He was arrested there Wednesday morning on warrants charging him with money laundering, conspiracy and 14 counts of grand theft. He was booked in the Miami-Dade County Jail pending extradition to Pinellas County.

Deputies arrested James during a traffic stop Wednesday morning near his home in Tarpon Springs. He was booked in the Pinellas County Jail on the same charges and held on $735,000 bail.

Their arrests punctuated a lengthy investigation that began with the 2011 complaint to the St. Pete Beach Police Department, authorities said. When the department was dissolved earlier this year, the Sheriff's Office inherited the case and compiled enough information to charge the two.

Authorities did not disclose exactly how the alleged theft was uncovered. The TradeWinds president, Keith Overton, and CEO, Tim Bogott, could not be reached late Wednesday for comment.

Both Baage and James began working for the St. Pete Beach resort in 2005, officials said. Baage's personal profile on the LinkedIn social networking website states that he previously worked as a controller for multiple hotels and resorts.

Deputies: Former TradeWinds officials embezzled $782,000 02/13/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 10:58pm]
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