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THE CASE OF THE STOLEN YACHT
Two Florida Men Plead Guilty After Global Hunt Finds the Boat…and Them

03/25/05

Photograph of two men standing in front of a yacht.The perfect crime?

Two young men from Florida must have thought so when they motored a $700,000 sailing yacht out of a South Carolina marina and into the open waters of the Atlantic one evening early last year. “We’ll be hundreds of miles away before anyone even notices it’s gone,” they thought. A full moon and a full tank of gas only eased their getaway.

What they didn’t know was this: it wasn’t just any yacht. It was a rare French-made Beneteau 57—one of just 50 in the world and the only one in North America—complete with teak decks, a mahogany stateroom, and a 75-foot mast. Its presence in Charleston was well known among sailing aficionados.

It’s not so easy to hide a prized yacht, remarked the lead investigators on the case—Special Agent Robert Derr in our Charleston office and Lt. James Williams, a former FBI Agent now with the Charleston Police Department, so they mounted a major publicity campaign, appearing on national television and issuing alerts for the missing craft. The owner’s insurance company also offered a $10,000 reward and sent fliers to marinas worldwide. “You name it and we did it,” Derr said.

Paydirt! Less than a month later, a tourist on Grand Bahama Island who knew all about boats spotted the unmistakable 57-foot craft. Our Legal Attaché agent in Chile (whose territory at the time included the Bahamas) contacted local authorities, who verified that it was the missing yacht.

Where were the thieves? A few days after their theft, they had realized how valuable the craft was and returned to the U.S. to lay low. When the boat was found, they packed their bags, headed to Paris, and then on to London.

But it didn’t take long to track them down. They’d left plenty of evidence behind on the boat. And when they heard we were hot on their trail, they quickly returned to the U.S. and turned themselves in.

Investigators soon learned the truth: the two men had set out to steal a yacht, but their first choices were either occupied, padlocked, or pointed away from an easy getaway. Then they saw the Beneteau, with its high tech dashboard and navy-blue hull, and were immediately smitten.

Then reality set in. Last month, Kevin Simmons and Jeremiah Greene pled guilty to federal charges of transporting stolen goods. They face up to 10 years in prison.

The moral of the story for boat owners? Don’t leave the keys on the boat!