See the update at the end of this post on today's arraignment of Edwards Sellers Fitzgerald.
ORIGINAL POST, MAY 10, 2:41 P.M.: A former Dana Point yacht broker was arrested in Florida today on a warrant alleging he stole more than $1.5 million from 26 customers of his yacht brokerage, Dana Island Yacht Sales and Charters.
Edward Sellers Fitzgerald, a 60-year-old whose head looks like a thumb, is now awaiting extradition proceedings aimed at returning him to Orange County.
Fitzgerald, then the owner of the Dana Point yacht brokerage, is accused of running an investment fraud scam between 2007 and July 2009. It was pretty much a Ponzi scheme, according to prosecutors, who allege Fitzgerald secured loans from friends and acquaintances under the false pretense of purchasing boats for resale, failed to make those purchases and then used new investors to pay off previous investors--keeping much of the money for personal expenses.
In some cases, Fitzgerald sold yachts on behalf of clients, embezzled the sale proceeds from his escrow account and either failed to return the funds or issued hot checks, according to an Orange County District Attorney's office (OCDA) statement. Fitzgerald is further accused of cashing in deposits customers put down on boats without completing the sales or returning the deposits.
In July of 2009, Fitzgerald disappeared locally. By then, his alleged victims began finding one another online, and several victims complained to the Orange County Sheriff's Department, which enlisted the OCDA Bureau of Investigation to assist. Their investigation determined Fitzgerald had cleaned out his bank accounts and moved away without telling his yacht business customers or leaving a new address.
Officers from the Delray Beach Police Department in Florida arrested Fitzgerald on a $1.6 million warrant from Orange County today. The date of extradition proceedings in Florida are to be determined.
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Fitzgerald is charged with eight felony counts of theft from an elder, 19 felony counts of using untrue statements in the purchase or sale of a security, 17 felony counts of grand theft and 14 felony counts of issuing non-sufficient checks with the intent to defraud.
A conviction could have him doing his yachting in state prison for 58 years.
UPDATE, MAY 28, 11:53 A.M.: Fitzgerald, who is being held on $1.6 million bail, is expected to be arraigned today in Central Jail, Santa Ana, according to the Orange County District Attorney's office.