More lawsuits filed against former Boise boat maker

New lawsuits add layers of allegations against a man who owned two custom jet-boat businesses in Boise before leaving town to start a jet-boat touring company near Niagara Falls.

One of the lawsuits seeks nearly $100 million in damages. Another says KeyBank was a conspirator in a scheme to lend consumers money to buy boats that bank employees knew Christopher Bohnenkamp’s businesses would not produce.

Idaho Transportation Department emails obtained by the Idaho Statesman also say an FBI special agent and a KeyBank attorney, Neil McFeeley of Eberle Berlin, were looking into complaints about boats to see “if there is criminal activity or if it’s a civil matter.”

The first lawsuit was filed by Michael Fox, Bohnenkamp’s former business partner in the tour business, Niagara Jet Adventures. Fox claims Bohnenkamp did not pay $2.2 million he owed to Fox, after Fox transferred his 51 percent ownership of the company to Bohnenkamp. The suit, filed Aug. 11 in a New York court, asks for $6.2 million in damages and $10 million in punitive damages for each of nine complaints.

The second lawsuit came from a former Bohnenkamp customer, Nevada resident Kelley Tuttle. He sued Bohnenkamp Aug. 12 in federal court in Idaho, saying he never received a prepaid, $147,241 jet boat he ordered from Bohnenkamp’s former Boise business, Bohnenkamp’s Whitewater Customs.

The lawsuit also names Treasure Valley Marine, a dealership business that Bohnenkamp operated from the same building in Boise, at the intersection of Morris Hill and Curtis roads.

Bohnenkamp’s attorney, Mia Murphy of Murphy Law Offices in Meridian, did not respond an email or voice mail message requesting comment.

The Tuttle suit mirrored several other Idaho lawsuits and several complaints to the Idaho Attorney General’s Office. The lawsuits all say Bohnenkamp either delivered unfinished hulls and trailers or delivered nothing on orders ranging from $50,000 to $200,000. The customers generally prepaid the full price, and some traded in their own boats for credit toward the purchases. After the Idaho Statesman reported on the complaints July 19, the Attorney General’s Office launched an investigation of possible violations of the Idaho Consumer Protection Act.

Tuttle’s lawsuit added a new wrinkle by naming KeyBank as a defendant, claiming the bank worked in concert with Bohnenkamp by financing boat orders, including Tuttle’s, and distributing the full amount of the loans to Bohnenkamp despite knowing the boats were not built.

The suit claimed Bohnenkamp directed Tuttle and a second, unnamed customer to KeyBank for financing. Two other former customers, Jim Basye in McCall and Brice Vineyard in Coeur d’Alene, told the Statesman in early July that they, too, took out loans from KeyBank after Bohnenkamp told them their boats would cost less if they did so. Public documents suggest at least six customers took out loans through KeyBank.

The lawsuit alleges Bohnenkamp and his businesses breached the Tuttle contract and committed fraud, and that KeyBank and Bohnenkamp violated state and federal racketeering laws. Bohnenkamp, his businesses and the bank “associated with each other for the purpose of defrauding individuals and/or entities.”

Jack Sparks, KeyBank spokesman for Idaho and Colorado, said the bank does not comment on pending litigation. Sparks also declined to answer questions about KeyBank policies on financing for vehicles including jet boats before they are manufactured.

Fox, the former Niagara Jet Adventures partner, alleges Bohnenkamp lied about or hid his financial problems in Idaho, the legal actions against him, a 2009 bankruptcy and a missed court-ordered payment on $2.7 million he owed to Custom Weld Boats in Lewiston.

Fox says Bohnenkamp fraudulently took the boats Fox had bankrolled, took a boat Fox had traded in, then took Fox’s shares in the business. That business, his lawsuit says, began running tours on the Niagara River in May and is now making $15,000 to $20,000 a day.

The lawsuit claims Bohnenkamp never delivered a tour boat for which Fox had paid $450,000 plus a trade-in of a $274,786 jet boat that Bohnenkamp had built for him previously. Fox claims he paid Bohnenkamp an additional $150,000 for another boat that was never delivered. Bohnenkamp did deliver four boats that Fox spent nearly $1.2 million to build, the lawsuit said.

According to the lawsuit, Bohnenkamp took money from Fox that was supposed to go toward the business and instead kept it for himself.

Fox alleged that his attorney at the time, Robert Bencini, deliberately concealed Bohnenkamp’s bankruptcy to Fox and also aided Bohnenkamp’s fraudulent purchase of Fox’s ownership in Niagara Jet Adventures and its parent company, Devil’s Hole Jet.

Fox recounted in his lawsuit how he told Bencini he was concerned that Bohnenkamp’s $1.9 million note to buy out Fox’s ownership was payable on March 1, 2015 — after his shares were scheduled to transfer to Bohnenkamp. According to the suit, Bencini assured Fox that the money was in place and that Fox’s interests were safe.

Bencini told Fox that “you could take his [Bohnenkamp’s] wife’s furs and jewels,” the lawsuit said.

Fox claims he never received the agreed-upon cash payment after ownership transferred to Bohnenkamp. Initially, Fox said he was told Bohnenkamp would pay once the boats and tour business was up and running. But later, Fox was told he’d receive his money only if the business was profitable, the suit said.

“Bohnenkamp now says that Fox will have to be paid over two years but still only from net profit after deducting all costs including a deduction of $140,000 per year salary for Bohnenkamp and his wife,” according to the lawsuit.

Fox’s attorney, John Bartolomei of Law Offices of John P. Bartolomei & Associates in Niagara, declined to comment. “The lawsuit speaks for itself,” he said.