Better Call Behnken: Palm Harbor boat shop customers paid for boats and got nothing

PALM HARBOR, Fla. (WFLA) — A consignment boat shop in Pinellas County is getting hammered by customers claiming they were ripped off hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Complaints are piling up against Gulf Coast Boat Sales in Palm Harbor after customers say they paid for boats and got nothing. Others tell News Channel 8 they sold the dealer boats and did not get paid. And others got a boat, but still did not receive a title.

The owner, John Hartnett broke his silence on Friday, telling News Channel 8 he’s been fully focused on a boat manufacturing business he owns in Oldsmar, and he had no clue so many customers were left high and dry at the Palm Harbor location.

He blames the general manager, who allegedly controlled the business’ deals and finances. The manager tells 8 On Your side that Hartnett is now throwing him under the bus and that no decision was made without his knowledge.

More than 20 customers called 8 On Your Side or the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office in desperation, wondering if there was any recourse.

Sandy and John Walling tell us they paid $41,000 for a brand new pontoon boat after meeting John Hartnett at a boat show. They found him at a booth for Gulf Coast Boat Sales, and decided to sign a contract for a brand new boat. Over some months, they were able to pay for the boat in full. Right now, they are stuck paying for insurance, dock fees and lender payments—but there is no boat.

“I just can’t believe that people would do this to other people, to this extent. It’s a lot of money,” Walling said.

Rick Weaver says he forked over $24,000 for a boat that sits at his house because it doesn’t have a title.

“I like to do everything legally, and I don’t really want to get pulled over and then I have to explain my way out of it,” Weaver said.

The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office is in the process of reviewing these complaints.

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