A former Boise jet-boat maker who prosecutors said took customers’ money, spent it on himself and never built their boats has agreed to plead guilty to counts of wire fraud and bank fraud.
The plea agreement for Christopher Bohnenkamp was filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Boise, just weeks before Bohnenkamp was scheduled to stand trial on allegations that he took millions of dollars for boats he never built.
Bohnenkamp owned Treasure Valley Marine and Bohnenkamp’s Whitewater Customs in Boise. The Idaho Statesman first reported in 2015 that he had taken former customers’ money without fulfilling their orders, then moved to New York to start a new business. The customers had each given Bohnenkamp five- and six-figure sums to build their boats.
The Statesman also discovered Bohnenkamp previously had operated a similar boat company, then filed for bankruptcy after being sued over unpaid bills.
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Prosecutors had prepared to show evidence that Bohnenkamp spent the money on a lavish lifestyle, numerous vehicles and gambling trips. They also planned to show that he intended to bleed money from his jet-boat company until it was broke.
The plea agreement says Bohnenkamp devised a scheme in 2014 to take money and property from customers and suppliers “by means of materially false and fraudulent pretenses, representations and promises, and to misappropriate” that money and property.
Bohnenkamp knew the companies were financially insolvent but continued taking orders and upfront payments from more than a dozen customers, and he continued to buy parts on credit, the agreement said.
When some of those customers pressed him for their boats, in some cases suggesting they might sue, Bohnenkamp “threatened to give those customers who sued him ‘nothing,’ while rewarding those who did not sue him with a completed boat,” prosecutors said in a trial brief.
He also caused a $125,728 check from Key Bank to be deposited in Washington Trust Bank on behalf of one of those customers. In addition, Bohnenkamp is responsible for a false bill of sale being submitted to Key Bank for one customer’s order, “with the intent to defraud Key Bank,” it said.
That resulted in a $272,982 loan, disbursed to Bohnenkamp’s companies. Bohnenkamp then kicked back $59,283 to the customer, the plea agreement said.
The total damage Bohnenkamp caused, according to the plea deal:
▪ Losses of $1.5 million to $3.5 million
▪ More than 10 victims
▪ Loans totaling more than $1 million from five banks, for boats that never materialized
Bohnenkamp is scheduled for a hearing to change his plea to guilty on Wednesday afternoon in Boise, before U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill.
Bohnenkamp agreed to disclose all of his assets and sources of income, and not to sell off any assets before he is sentenced.
The penalties for wire fraud and bank fraud each are up to 30 years in prison, up to five years of supervised release and a maximum fine of $1 million.
He also agrees to pay restitution “equal to the loss caused to any victim,” which is expected to be determined at sentencing.
What happened to the money?
Bohnenkamp used his customers’ money for gambling trips and personal expenses instead of using it to build the custom boats they ordered, prosecutors said in a court filing before the plea agreement.
Bohnenkamp started Bohnenkamp’s Whitewater Customs in 2009 intending to “milk [it] for everything it was worth and tank it,” prosecutors said in a court filing.
He also started a partner company, Treasure Valley Marine, at the same time. The businesses accumulated more than $3 million in debts over four years to customers for their prepaid but unbuilt boats, according to the document.
The document and others were filed in April by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, leading up to the May 8 trial. Here’s what he spent the money on, according to those pre-trial documents:
▪ Monthly gambling trips to several casinos in Nevada, New York, Oregon, Washington and Idaho.
▪ A $300,000 home addition that included a horse corral, hot tub, new living room and kitchen with new appliances, an RV garage and gym, a breezeway with a wet bar and outdoor deck.
▪ $123,100 of child support payments.
▪ Snowmobiling trips.
▪ Jewelry and clothing.
▪ $98,119 of food and drinks.
▪ Car payments.
▪ An ATV and dirt bike.
▪ Fifteen vehicles including trailers, six Ford trucks, one Toyota truck, a Nissan Armada SUV, a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, a boat, a “party snowmobile trailer” and a jet ski.
Bohnenkamp lost more than $302,000 at casinos between 2010 and 2014, they said. On the “few occasions” when he won at the casino, he would deposit money back into the business accounts.
Meanwhile, Bohnenkamp paid himself a salary of $127,621 in 2013 and $129,908 in 2014, they said.
Federal prosecutors claimed in an indictment last year that Bohnenkamp did not pay vendors for parts purchased on credit, took more than $1.6 million from 15 customers between 2012 and 2014 without delivering their boats, and then took $1.7 million more in upfront payments from 13 new customers.
Bohnenkamp created the now-defunct Boise businesses just two days after he filed for bankruptcy protection from debts similar to those alleged in this case.
Before he started building boats, Bohnenkamp worked for 15 years at a Les Schwab Tire Center. He left that job in 2006. He bought a boat dealership in the Boise area and sold jet boats that were made by a Lewiston company — and, in the process, amassed $2.7 million in debt by 2009, prosecutors said.
He filed for bankruptcy then, and paid back only $7,004 of his business-related debts after the bankruptcy, prosecutors said.
The former Kuna resident has been sued by former customers, former business partners and vendors and the state.
Bohnenkamp has never commented on the allegations. His attorney has said in the past that Bohnenkamp was acting in good faith but ran out of money while trying to finish the boats.
In spring 2015, Bohnenkamp and his family “fled Idaho and permanently moved to Youngstown, N.Y.,” prosecutors said.