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Joy ride on $80,000 boat runs aground

A 26-year-old who already faces fraud and reckless operation charges is accused of taking a 39-foot boat and causing $15,000 in damage.

By CHRIS TISCH, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 10, 2002


A 26-year-old who already faces fraud and reckless operation charges is accused of taking a 39-foot boat and causing $15,000 in damage.

CLEARWATER -- Within two weeks of his arrest on charges of theft and fraud last year, Todd Naylor took a joy ride, police say.

In early April of last year, Clearwater police say, Naylor and a friend went to the Island Yacht Club and untied a 39-foot Sea Ray from its slip. The friend, thinking the boat was Naylor's, boarded the boat and rode along as Naylor drove to Shephard's Beach Resort and picked up some acquaintances.

Downing Bud Lights, Naylor and a group of seven friends went joy riding on the seas, police said. Then Naylor ran aground just off Dunedin Causeway. He and his friends were stuck for 90 minutes until high tides rocked them free, police said.

Police said Naylor brought the boat back to the marina and tied it to the slip.

The $80,000 boat had suffered about $15,000 in damage. The canvas was ripped and one of boat's two engines had been blown from the encounter with the sandbar. The gas tank was dry, and beer cans were scattered throughout the vessel.

All of which wouldn't be a big deal, except for one thing: The boat doesn't belong to Naylor. It is owned by two men who don't even know him.

After almost 18 months of investigation, authorities on Wednesday morning arrested Naylor on a grand theft charge. He was being held at the Pinellas County Jail Wednesday in lieu of $10,000 bail, but he intended to post bail Wednesday evening, said his attorney, John Trevena.

The thing that got Naylor caught: A friend left his driver's license on board. After the owners found the license while cleaning the boat, they gave it to Clearwater police, who used it to track down Naylor.

Naylor, 26, and his father, Richard P. Naylor, were previously charged on April 5, 2001, with multiple counts of fraud and grand theft. Authorities said the Naylors defrauded investors in the elder Naylor's business, Thunderbird Helicopter Service in Clearwater.

Authorities said Richard Naylor was in over his head with investors from whom he had taken hundreds of thousands of dollars and with customers he had promised newly refurbished helicopters he didn't deliver. On June 23, 1998, a desperate Richard Naylor set fire to his business at 1710 Calumet St. in Clearwater, authorities said.

That fire led to the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office's criminal investigation into Naylor's complex business dealings. It took almost three years for authorities to unravel a web of bad deals and schemes that authorities said defrauded 27 people out of $5.5-million since 1996.

Richard Naylor has told the Times he made some bad business decisions, but he shouldn't be criminally prosecuted. He also said his son had little to do with the business. Both are awaiting trial and are scheduled for a pretrial hearing Dec. 17.

Five other associates and partners also were charged. One has pleaded guilty.

Todd Naylor was released from jail on bail the day of his arrest. Within two weeks, police said, Naylor took the Sea Ray on a joy ride.

While his business was crumbling, Richard Naylor had a waterfront condo on Sand Key, a Mercedes and 60 acres in Georgia, where he put up a girlfriend. He also had a boat moored at Island Yacht Club, just a few slips away from the boat that was stolen, said Clearwater police Detective John Diebel.

Todd Naylor seemed so sure of himself on the boat that his friend, Daniel Cummings, believed Naylor when he said it was his father's, authorities said.

The owners reported the boat damage on April 14. Four days later, as they cleaned the boat, they found a driver's license belonging to Chad Schultz in a drawer. Diebel contacted Schultz, who told him Naylor had picked him up at Shephard's.

"If it wasn't for finding that license, I wouldn't have solved the case," Diebel said.

Diebel interviewed Naylor, who denied being on the boat, the detective said.

Diebel signed the warrant for Naylor's arrest two weeks ago. Naylor was arrested at his home, 2159 Karan Way, on Wednesday morning.

Trevena, Naylor's attorney, wondered why it took 18 months to make the charge. Diebel said it took that long to find witnesses.

"It sounds like somebody wanted to throw another charge on him," Trevena said. "We will vigorously defend his new charge."

Since his arrest last year, Naylor also has been charged with reckless operation of a boat and disorderly intoxication.

He was given a notice to appear in court in May after a deputy saw him trying to drive a 25-foot cabin cruiser at full speed in a congested area of Clearwater Pass. Naylor, who had been drinking, lost control of the boat and struck four other vessels. Marine deputies had to help him control the boat.

He pleaded no contest to that charge and was ordered to pay $225 in court costs. The disorderly intoxication charge was dropped.

-- Chris Tisch can be reached at 445-4156 or tisch@sptimes.com.

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