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Man charged with conspiracy to rob SunCruz Casino boat off Port Richey

PORT RICHEY — Ronald Bayless had a plan.

He spent a month investigating Port Richey's SunCruz Casino boat, anchored just a few miles off the coast, according to the Pasco County Sheriff's Office. He tracked the water taxis that ferried visitors to the casino. He told his partner one of those water taxis carried the casino's cash earnings back to shore, authorities said.

The planning took him most of May. But authorities say as Bayless moved closer to executing his heist, he let the wrong people in on the secret: Two undercover detectives.

When the detectives met Bayless on June 3, he asked them to help him stop the water taxi carrying what he believed would be $2 million in casino earnings at the mouth of the Pithlachascotee River, according to the Pasco County Sheriff's Office. Bayless conspired with another person, whose name authorities have not released, sheriff's spokesman Kevin Doll said.

"His plan was to either shoot the people on the boat or hijack it," Doll said Tuesday.

Although Bayless, now 22, never boarded the boat or took a penny, the State Attorney's Office decided his plans had been solid enough to charge him this week with conspiracy to commit robbery and solicitation to commit robbery.

"He looked to be serious about carrying out the plan," Doll said.

Doll said Bayless and his father, who is now deceased, used to work for the three-level, 13,000-square-foot casino, which advertises a Las Vegas-style experience on the water.

After undercover detectives from the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office caught wind in May of Bayless' designs on the floating fortune, they teamed with Pasco detectives to warn SunCruz officials and watch Bayless, Doll said.

Bayless worked there for only a short time, Doll said, though SunCruz spokeswoman Beth Fifer said she could not recall him among the casino's 150 employees. She said the company performs background checks on new hires.

According to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Bayless has multiple arrests dating back to 2004. He pleaded guilty to resisting an officer in 2007, pleaded no contest to carrying a concealed weapon in 2008, and was sentenced to 18 months in prison for burglary and credit card fraud in 2009.

On June 8, undercover narcotics detectives arrested and held Bayless after he attempted to sell marijuana to them. He was not charged with the conspiracy in the SunCruz case until Monday, after the State Attorney's Office approved the charge, Doll said.

He remained at the Land O'Lakes jail Tuesday in lieu of $38,000 bail on numerous charges.

No one has ever plotted to rob the casino before, Fifer said.

"This is a first," she said. "I praise law enforcement."

Neither she nor Doll would say whether the casino does, in fact, ferry its daily earnings back to shore in a water taxi or how much those earnings are worth. But Doll said security measures were tightened after SunCruz officials learned of Bayless' plans.

Man charged with conspiracy to rob SunCruz Casino boat off Port Richey 07/20/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 20, 2010 9:56pm]

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