A former Boise custom jet boat builder was arrested Thursday in New York state after a grand jury in Boise indicted him. The indictment said he defrauded customers and vendors by taking payments for jet boats and then not building them.
Christopher Bohnenkamp, 41, operated Bohnenkamp’s Whitewater Customs and the sales arm of the business, Treasure Valley Marine, in Boise before moving to New York in 2015. He operates a jet boat tour business, Niagara Jet Adventures, near Buffalo.
Bohnenkamp, formerly of Kuna, was indicted Tuesday on charges of wire fraud and bank fraud, said Wendy Olson, the U.S. attorney for Idaho.
He surrendered after a warrant was issued and was arraigned Thursday before a federal magistrate judge. He pleaded not guilty and agreed to return voluntarily to Idaho to face the charges.
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Mike Sanders, a technician at Micron Technology, has records showing he paid Bohnenkamp $50,000 and traded in an aluminum propeller boat to pay for a new, custom jet boat and trailer. Like other customers, he received an unusable skeleton of a boat hull and trailer he had to pick up from Bohnenkamp’s business at the corner of Morris Hill and Curtis Roads in the chaotic days before the builder left town.
“I’d already convinced myself long ago that I’d never see a dime of my money back,” Sanders said after learning of the indictment. “This is the only satisfaction we can get.”
The Idaho Statesman first reported last year that several of Bohnenkamp’s former customers alleged he had taken their money without fulfilling their orders, then left town. The Idaho Attorney General’s Office then opened an investigation. The FBI also investigated.
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Bohnenkamp has been sued by former customers, former business partners and vendors, as well as the state. His attorney has said in the past that Bohnenkamp simply ran out of money and was trying to make good on the orders.
The indictment alleges that in 2014, Bohnenkamp devised a scheme to defraud customers and material vendors of his companies by promising to build and deliver the boats and trailers and pay vendors for materials that they supplied on credit.
From 2012 through 2014, Bohnenkamp accepted more than $1.6 million in upfront payments from 15 customers, but never built and delivered the boats and trailers they ordered, the indictment said.
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Still owing those customers jet boats and trailers, and still owing material vendors for components bought on credit, Bohnenkamp accepted $1.7 million more in upfront payments from 13 new customers from May 2014 through December 2014, the indictment said.
Bohnenkamp also is charged with defrauding KeyBank and Washington Trust Bank in connection with about $1 million the banks loaned to six customers to buy boats and trailers.
“The scheme to defraud, and to obtain and misappropriate money and property, affected financial institutions, to wit: Washington Trust Bank, KeyBank, Idaho Central Credit Union, Mountain West Bank of Montana and Les Bois Credit Union,” the indictment said.
Each charge is punishable by up to 30 years in prison, up to five years of supervised released and a fine up to $1 million.
In July, a judge approved a settlement between Bohnenkamp and Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden that ordered the boat maker to repay more than $372,368 to eight customers, including Sanders. The settlement stipulated that Bohnenkamp could suspend payments until he could afford to do pay.
Sanders said that settlement felt like a hollow victory.
“Considering they said he can pay it back whenever he had money — which would be never — this is the only justice I think you can hope for,” Sanders said.
Niagara Gazette reporter Philip Gambini contributed.