Tuesday, February 26, 2013
Carmel on the Case: Boat Battle
There's a boat battle brewing between a South Florida family and the state. And an investigation into who, if anyone, broke the law is heating up. Investigative reporter Carmel Cafiero is On the Case.
WSVN -- This is home security video of state wildlife officers inspecting a family's boat in Southwest Miami-Dade. Florida Fish and Wildlife officers then seized the boat and took it away.
Owner Rachael Hernandez is outraged.
Rachael Hernandez: "It's very scary, it's a nightmare. It's sad to think that in this country, something like this could happen."
It started when Hernandez sold her family's 24-foot Pro-Line to an FWC recruit. He paid with a $9500 check and took the boat. The next day, Hernandez says she got a disturbing call from the recruit.
Rachael Hernandez: "I get a very strange call from him, saying, 'Listen, I'm going to keep your boat, I'm not going to pay for it. I have the power to do that, I'm a police officer, and I just don't give,' you know, he said a bad word."
Hernandez says, when she went to cash the check, it would not go through. The buyer had stopped payment.
Rachael Hernandez: "We freaked out."
She called police, who helped her retrieve the boat, but days later, another twist. FWC officers showed up at her home armed with a search warrant and took the boat.
Carmel Cafiero: "What did you think when you saw your boat going out of the backyard?"
Rachael Hernandez: "Well, I thought, they actually are gonna steal my boat and not pay for it."
FWC says it only took the boat because their recruit had reported the vessel's hull identification, or HIN numbers, appear to have been altered.
Jorge Pino, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission: "We have an officer stating that he purchased a vessel that he thought was legit, and after further investigation, turned out that perhaps it was not a legitimate purchase."
FWC then called the boat manufacturer, Pro-Line, to search for the hidden number that every boat has, which should match the visible one. But it could not be found on the 21-year-old boat, which has had several owners.
Johnny Walker, Pro-Line: "I didn't see a number, but you know, it's not supposed to be readily visible either, so that's all you get."
Hernandez insists she bought the boat legally, and all the paperwork she has and paperwork from prior owners indicates this boat has always had the same hull numbers.
Hernandez has now hired an attorney who argues the FWC's case doesn't hold water.
Mario Quintero Jr.: "I've been doing this a long time, and frankly, I'm at a loss for words how this case got to the point where it is now. All this, I think, is totally frivolous. They have no case."
The FWC says an internal affairs investigation has been opened.
Jorge Pino: "The internal affairs office is responsible for investigating the officer's actions. Did he violate policy? More importantly, did he violate any law or any rule on the books?"
Meanwhile, the case will have to go before a judge to determine who gets the boat. For now it sits in an FWC impound lot.
Carmel Cafiero, 7News.
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