LUTZ — For several years, a Lutz boat transport company has accepted tens of thousands of dollars to transport boats they never moved, customers say.
A California couple paid $5,000 to have their boat shipped across the country. Able Boat Transport never picked it up.
A Nevada man says he lost $33,000.
Now, customers say they can't reach Able Boat, which filed Chapter 7 bankruptcy last month. The company's phone is disconnected, and its website is down.
A Maryland man is particularly angry about the bankruptcy.
Jonathon Cherner 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.
"These guys completely screwed me," he said.
Able Boat was formed in 2007 and served as a broker between customers and companies that have 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 them last year to move a 30-foot center console boat.
"They picked up and delivered as promised and I was very pleased with the service," he said.
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 the company owes money.
Helman, 37, told the Tampa Bay Times he never took money for services not rendered.
He said Able Boat refused to transport boats only when the pickup people showed up at the dock and discovered the boats were larger than customers had reported.
"I'm sure they're a little bit upset," he said. "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.
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Nancy Lingo said, in her case, that's not true.
Nancy, 70, and Ed Lingo, 72, of California, paid about $5,000 to have their 25-foot Glastron boat named SummerPlace moved from Florida to California.
The August pickup date passed, and Ed Lingo couldn't reach Helman. In an email exchange, Helman said the pick-up was delayed but would happen.
The Lingos eventually got another company to move their boat for about $7,000. But the $5,000 they directly deposited into Able Boat's account at Bank of America is gone.
"We told him what size the boat is. We have a signed contract," she said. "We did not give him the wrong size, no way. That's ridiculous."
When she contacted the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office to report a crime, she says, a deputy told her it was a civil matter.
"It seems like theft to me," she said.
The Sheriff's Office said last month it is not investigating Able Boat.
Lingo doubts she'll get her money back, now that the company is bankrupt, but at least she has her boat.
The man from Nevada, Michael Tickvitza, lost his 72-foot 1938 Trumpy Classic Motor Yacht, and he partly blames Able Boat.
Tickvitza, 66, bought the boat several years ago. It needed repairs, and he thought it would make a perfect project during his retirement.
But he lost about $33,000 in the deal with Able Boat, he said, and could not pay the constantly-increasing dry dock fees as his boat sat in South Carolina for months.
His savings depleted, he had to give up the boat. Now, he says, he lives month-to-month on Social Security checks.
And he blames Helman.
"I hope he goes to jail," Tickvitza said. "I never thought at this age, that I would be struggling like this."
Times staff writer Stephanie Bolling and news researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3433.