Prosecutors pitch harsh sentence for jet-boat builder’s ‘prolonged Ponzi scheme’

Christopher Bohnenkamp, the former Boise jet-boat maker, with his wife, Rachel, at Niagara Falls.
Christopher Bohnenkamp, the former Boise jet-boat maker, with his wife, Rachel, at Niagara Falls. Screenshot via Twitter

Prosecutors are seeking a sentence of more than five years in prison, $3.2 million in restitution and a $3.7 million forfeiture judgment for former Boise businessman Christopher Bohnenkamp.

Bohnenkamp pleaded guilty in April to wire fraud and bank fraud related to his companies, which built boats and trailers. His sentencing is scheduled for Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Boise.

He knew his companies were broke but continued to take money from more than a dozen customers, the plea agreement said. Under the plea deal, prosecutors dropped 25 other fraud counts.

Bohnenkamp owned Treasure Valley Marine and Bohnenkamp’s Whitewater Customs in Boise. The Statesman reported in 2015 that he had taken prepaid orders from many customers — some paying tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars for boats and trailers. Bohnenkamp never fulfilled their orders. He eventually moved to upstate New York to start a new business providing boat tours.

The relatively harsh sentence — on the high end of what sentencing guidelines call for in this case — would “provide just punishment, promote the defendant’s respect for law and provide adequate deterrence,” prosecutors said.

Bohnenkamp’s attorney, Charles Peterson, did not respond last week to messages from the Statesman. He has filed a response to the sentencing recommendations, but it was sealed as of Friday.

In their sentencing memo to U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill, prosecutors called Bohnenkamp’s crime “egregious” and “a prolonged Ponzi scheme to fund his extravagant lifestyle.”

Bohnenkamp’s businesses were out of money by 2014 at the latest, they said, but he still continued taking orders from at least 19 customers and running up charges for materials, they said.

Prosecutors said they found a pattern in which Bohnenkamp took payments and spent the money. For example, two customers paid a total of $139,800 in late March 2014. Two weeks later, he spent more than $3,000 on airline tickets for himself, his wife, his daughter and five friends. They flew to Seattle, where he spent $4,500 on hotel rooms, $600 for a rental car, $6,400 at a casino, $1,700 at clothing stores and $400 at a restaurant.

He also assigned his employees to work on his $300,000 home addition instead of building boats, they said.

“By early 2015, like all Ponzi schemes, [Bohnenkamp’s] businesses collapsed,” prosecutors said.

His customers and suppliers lost $3.2 million, they said.

Bohnenkamp testified in May 2016 that he was “broke” and “ruined.” Two months later, he settled a lawsuit from the Idaho Attorney General’s Office that promised to pay $372,368 in restitution to several boat customers. The AG’s office suspended the payments after Bohnenkamp provided financial records and an affidavit that he couldn’t pay. Bohnenkamp has not made any payments, prosecutors said.

However, prosecutors said, his New York company has paid Bohnenkamp $4,000 a month in salary, paid him $2,000 a month for his vehicles, paid his rent and covered “numerous” expenses, including airline tickets, concert tickets and fine dining, since April 2016. They said Bohnenkamp has deposited thousands of dollars of cash into his personal bank account.

Audrey Dutton: 208-377-6448, @audreydutton