A former Boise custom jet boat maker who moved to upstate New York to open a new business, leaving behind unfinished boats and multiple lawsuits, is now under state investigation.
The Idaho Statesman last Sunday reported how Christopher Bohnenkamp and his boat sales and manufacturing companies have been sued multiple times by disgruntled customers and by companies trying to collect on unpaid bills. Four people had filed formal complaints with the Idaho attorney general, and multiple customers told the Statesman they had spoken with the FBI.
This week, the Idaho Attorney General’s Office delivered an investigative demand to Bohnenkamp’s Meridian attorney, Mia Murphy. The document calls for Bohnenkamp to deliver an array of documents — including financial and legal records — unfinished boat locations and contacts for former employees for his Boise businesses, Bohnenkamp’s Whitewater Customs and Treasure Valley Marine.
The Statesman confirmed through public records and interviews that Bohnenkamp took payments from several customers totaling at least $1 million but failed to deliver finished boats. Murphy previously told the Statesman that there were 17 unresolved accounts.
John Basye, of McCall, is one of the buyers who has complained to the state, saying he received an incomplete hull after paying $130,000 for a new boat. Basye said Friday that he had been frustrated by the earlier lack of response from the state but now is looking forward to providing paperwork for the investigation.
“I’m putting everything in there: my bank papers, my bill of sale, my registration,” Basye told the Statesman. “I have a title for a boat and a title for a boat trailer that don’t exist. I have VIN numbers. I have all of that. They need to answer some questions.”
Bohnenkamp is working on a new endeavor with his wife, Rachel Bohnenkamp: a tour company, Niagara Jet Adventures, in Niagara County, N.Y. Their Boise office and warehouse on the corner of Morris Hill and Curtis roads stand empty, and the building’s owner has sued Christopher Bohnenkamp for back rent.
Two additional couples have filed complaints with the attorney general since last week. Eight customers have filed complaints with the Idaho Transportation Department, seeking to file a claim against Bohnenkamp’s company’s bond, protection the department requires for licensed wholesale vessel and vehicle dealers.
One of the new complaints came from a Montana couple suing Bohnenkamp over a boat for which they said they paid more than $125,000 for upfront and never received. They included information in their complaint about other buyers with whom they had conversed.
Six customers had secured loans through a local KeyBank branch at Bohnenkamp’s suggestion.
Couer d’Alene construction worker Brice Vineyard told the Statesman that Bohnenkamp talked him into financing through KeyBank after Vineyard had arranged to take out a loan through a credit union.
Vineyard said Bohnenkamp offered to build a 22-foot boat for $65,000, at least $15,000 less than price quotes Vineyard obtained from other builders. Bohnenkamp then offered to lower that price if Vineyard financed through KeyBank.
Vineyard said Bohnenkamp told him, “If you use KeyBank, they’ll give me a $2,000 kickback, and I’ll take that off of the price of your boat.”
“I thought, ‘Shoot! That’s another 2,000 bucks. I’ll take that.’ Who wouldn’t?” Vineyard said.
A KeyBank spokesman, citing customer confidentiality, said he could not comment on how many boats were financed through the bank or whether the bank was investigating.
The deputy attorney general who issued the demand to Murphy, Stephanie Guyon, asked Bohnenkamp’s lawyer about the earlier complaints but closed her inquiry last month after corresponding with Murphy. Murphy told Guyon and the Statesman that customers were not cooperating and could pick up partly finished boat hulls. Bohnenkamp’s business ran out of money because of a confluence of problems, and he intended to make customers whole, Murphy wrote to Guyon.
But new documents and complaints have prompted AG Lawrence Wasden’s office to open an investigation, Guyon wrote to Murphy.
“In your last letter to our office, you wrote that Bohnenkamp failed for economic reasons,” Guyon wrote. “Consumers contend, however, that the Idaho businesses collected over a million dollars for boats and trailers that the businesses not only failed to deliver, but in many instances never began building.
“It is reasonable, therefore, for the Attorney General’s Office to have concerns that Bohnenkamp continued to accept money from customers when (he) knew or reasonably should have known that (he) could not timely deliver the customers’ purchased goods. Additionally, it is significant to our office that ... Bohnenkamp, while allegedly experiencing the financial collapse of his Idaho business, relocated to New York to operate a new, but relatively similar company.”
Guyon said the AG’s office is investigating Bohnenkamp and his businesses for possible violations of the Idaho Consumer Protection Act, which authorizes lawsuits over deceptive, unfair and otherwise illegal trade practices.