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Two TradeWinds executives get prison for embezzlement

Harold James, former technology director, must help pay $338,000 in restitution.
Published Aug. 20, 2014

At a bustling hotel like TradeWinds in St. Pete Beach, you need a lot of computers to keep the business humming.

So two of the resort's key financial executives frequently rushed payments to various IT businesses, sometimes making or approving disbursements via American Express and PayPal.

But on Tuesday morning, former chief financial officer Sam Baage, 60, and former technology director Harold William James, 47, stood in court and admitted that all those computer expenses were a sham.

The two conspired to steal more than $780,000 from the well-known beach resort. In a plea agreement Tuesday, both men pleaded guilty to multiple counts of grand theft.

They were each sentenced to three years in prison. They also must pay a combined $300,000 in restitution to the hotel's insurance company and $38,000 to the TradeWinds itself.

Both showed up to court in street clothes and were fingerprinted after a hearing en route to prison. They did not make any statements about their crime, other than to answer routine questions from Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Nancy Moate Ley to indicate they understood the consequences of their plea.

Court records say that when James was using the TradeWinds American Express card, he was actually buying "personal items such as automobile and boat parts, watercraft, jewelry and male enhancement pills."

At one point a TradeWinds official asked James for more documentation about his purchases, but Baage told her that "James was saving the company a great deal of money with these purchases" and she was not to question them.

Some of the techniques the men used to pirate money were outlined in an affidavit from a Pinellas sheriff's deputy.

It says TradeWinds paid multiple invoices to a company called Vam Inc. or Vam W Inc. Detectives traced these payments to a business in Lakeland called the Best Little Car Wash. According to records, James was president and Baage was treasurer. TradeWinds paid 26 invoices that went to the company between 2008 and 2011 totaling $186,941.

An additional 25 checks totaling $149,483 were paid between 2008 and 2011 to a company called DirectTech. James had registered the company name DirectTech and listed the Lakeland car wash as its address.

The detectives said this money was part of the cash in an account that was later used for "restaurants, gas stations, home-improvement retail stores and online dating sites." James used some of the money to buy a house in Tarpon Springs, records show.

Also, James made multiple purchases for TradeWinds through a PayPal account to companies with names such as Fstcomputers@aol.com, msengineer911@aol.com and cyberconceptsgroup@gmail.com.

But the purchases were made to businesses that traced back to James, Baage or the names of their family members, authorities said.

Contact Curtis Krueger at ckrueger@tampabay.com or (727) 892-8232. Follow @ckruegertimes.

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