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Conversion Fraud – Theft of Boat

INTENTIONAL TORTS Conversion Fraud Boat's seller claimed hidden sale constituted fraud
Settlement:   Verdict $1,601,125 Case Pamela Gill Heron v. Marine Sales, Inc. and Frank Hunter, No. 18524/06
Case #:   XXVI/15-20
Date:   Tuesday, May 20, 2008
Court:   Nassau Supreme
Plaintiff Attorney:   Anthony T. Ballato, Anthony T. Ballato, Esq., Massapequa, NY
Facts:   In October 2005, plaintiff Pamela Gill Heron entered into an agreement with Marine Sales Inc. and its owner, Frank Hunter, boat brokers, to have her 31-foot boat sold. Within a few weeks, the defendants sold the boat for $85,000. Heron claimed that she was deliberately not informed about the sale. The boat's purchaser was issued a temporary registration by Hunter and Marine Sales, given that they could not procure Heron's signature on the boat's title.

Heron claimed that she discovered the sale in July 2006, or thereabouts, after she had made several inquiries and an unannounced visit to the marina with her husband. After weeks of Heron demanding payment with the assistance of the Freeport Police Department, Hunter and Marine Sales issued a partial payment of $10,000 in September 2006. About five weeks later, they issued a check for $20,000, which was returned for insufficient funds.

Heron ultimately learned that several other people had filed similar claims against Hunter and Marine Sales. In March 2008, Hunter pleaded guilty to charges of grand larceny in the second-degree and scheme to defraud in the first-degree.
Heron sued Hunter and Marine Sales. She alleged that the defendants' actions constituted fraud and conversion.
Heron claimed that the defendants agreed that they would sell the boat for about $90,000 and retain a 10-percent commission while providing free transportation and storage of the boat.

Although the defendants defended all pretrial proceedings with their legal counsel, they failed to appear for the trial. The matter proceeded to inquest.

Injuries/Damages Heron's counsel submitted documentary evidence and testimony of the defendants' larceny and conversion of funds from the sale of Heron's boat as well as the defendants' knowledge of her unfortunate situation and desperate need of funds. Heron claimed that the larceny of her funds further compounded her physical and mental suffering as well as her dire financial circumstances, resulting in extreme mental anguish. She claimed that the defendants' withholding of her funds led to the commencement of a foreclosure action against her residence. She sought compensatory and punitive damages.
Result Judge Michele Woodard found that Heron's compensatory damages totaled $600,000, which included $100,000 for the boat and a total of $500, 000 for the loss of equity in her home and for her physical and mental suffering.
Woodard opined that Hunter's conduct was wanton, reckless, malicious and an affront to the general public. She found that Heron's damages were the result of an intentional crime and an intentional tort from which her damages flowed in a foreseeable manner. Woodard awarded punitive damages of $1 million, which is 10 times the amount of the larceny. She also awarded $1,125.06 in costs.

Patricia Gill Heron $1,000,000 punitive damages
$600,000 compensatory damages
$1,125 statutory costs and disbursements

Editor's Note This report is based on information that was provided by plaintiff's counsel. Defense counsel was not asked to contribute.
Nancy Deluca

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