Multiple victims say a Forsyth County man sold boats to them, took payment but never delivered the boats.
Authorities in Gainesville, along with other places in Georgia and South Carolina, are investigating complaints against Bradley Shane Watson, 59. Attempts to contact Watson for comment and to determine if Watson has legal representation have been unsuccessful.
Scott Lindy, a Forsyth County resident, said he texted a man in March 2017 he had known casually for years, a man who he had heard sold new Carolina Skiff boats for a fraction of their cost. According to an incident report from the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office, on March 28, 2017, Lindy made a deposit of $9,000 to the man and was guaranteed that a 2017 Sea Chaser 26LX Bay Runner would be delivered to him in February 2018.
Around that same time, Devin Smith of Good Hope in Walton County, found an ad on Craigslist for a Carolina Skiff boat for sale. When Smith called the number on the ad, he was told the boat was no longer for sale, but another boat would be ready in a few months if he paid an $8,000 deposit in cash. On May 2, 2017, Smith allegedly met with the ad’s poster, paid the down payment and signed paperwork guaranteeing the boat would be delivered in late 2017.
In May 2017, Tom Boykin, a resident of Aiken County, South Carolina, answered a similar ad and was told that the boat in the ad had been sold, but the poster could find Boykin a similar boat if he paid a $9,000 down payment. According to an incident report from the Gainesville Police Department, on May 27, 2017, Boykin met with the poster at United Community Bank in Gainesville, paid the down payment and signed paperwork guaranteeing that his boat would be delivered as promised.
A month later, Sanford Engelberg, of South Carolina, a friend of Boykin, called the same person to inquire about buying a boat, and was told the same story — the boat had been sold, but a new boat would be available in the future with a down payment and a few months wait. According to an investigator with the Morgan County Sheriff’s Office, on June 9, 2017, Engelberg met the same person as Boykin, Smith and Lindy at a TA Truck Stop in Monroe County and paid him a deposit of $9,000.
But each of these men, and others with similar stories, never received their boats. Each of them say that local Lake Lanier fishing guide Watson is to blame, and that months after securing deposits for their boats Watson took thousands of dollars from them under the guise of a legitimate investment.
According to his website, lakelanierstripers.com, Watson is described as “a 3rd generation Lake Lanier fisherman” who runs “Lake Lanier’s ‘Only’ Full-Time Fishing Fleet.”
Watson’s business is one of several featured on the Official Georgia Tourism and Travel site, and in 2010 he was inducted into the National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame.
Today, as many as 10 people have come forward to authorities saying they are victims of fraud by Watson.
And as far back as 2016, Watson has been the subject of three civil suits in Forsyth County regarding unpaid investments and is listed as a person of interest in fraud, theft by conversion and theft by deception cases in Gainesville; Forsyth, Banks and Monroe counties in Georgia; and Aiken County, South Carolina.
According to civil complaints recently filed in the State Court of Forsyth County, between June and September of 2016, Watson entered into an agreement with two additional individuals, received thousands of dollars from them and guaranteed them sizable returns by May 15, 2017.
One complaint, filed by attorney Gabriel Hotard on May 7, 2018, states that Watson eventually defaulted on two promissory notes with his client, notes worth more than $80,000.
Another complaint filed by attorney James Gordon on May 18, 2018, states that his client paid Watson $30,000 expecting that and an additional $10,000 in interest would be repaid. According to the complaint, Watson repaid only $15,000.
Both Boykin and Engelberg said that they were skeptical about doing business with a stranger until they researched Watson online and found that he had a legitimate business and ties to the lake community.
“I saw that he had a business and a number of boats that he ran on Lake Lanier, had a long litany of associations with Carolina Skiff, Suzuki,” Boykin said. “There were articles about him, videos of him, a book that he had written and was available."
Smith said that five months after making his boat deal, he was approached by Watson again and offered a new opportunity to invest in the sale of boats. Watson allegedly told him that by investing in a deal to buy and flip boats cheaply, Smith could double his money.
On Oct. 15, 2017, Smith wrote Watson a check for $30,000. In return, Smith said he was promised $28,000 and his boat for free when it was to be delivered in 2018.
Both Lindy and Boykin say that they made similar deals with Watson in the months after ordering boats from him. Lindy gave $25,000 to Watson, while Boykin made two investments with Watson totaling more than $40,000. Both Lindy and Boykin said Watson promised significant returns on their investments when the boats were due to be delivered in 2018.
Lindy, Boykin and Smith said that after doing business with Watson earlier in the year, they felt confident he would make good on the loan promises.
“I accepted, believing that he would have to provide me with the boat, that it would be kind of secured by the boat," Boykin said.
Boykin, Lindy and Smith all said that the due date on those investments and their boats came and went, and all they received from Watson were excuses.
Engelberg said he never invested anything with Watson beyond his initial boat down payment of $9,000. He said that he has since received the full amount back, but only after law enforcement intervened in the situation.
According to Sgt. Brandon Sellers, chief investigator of the Morgan County Sheriff’s Office, deputies visited Watson at his home in Forsyth County on May 16, 2017, ready to arrest him for theft by deception but allowed Watson a few days to repay Engelberg.
Engelberg said that he received a check for $9,000 shortly after.
Cpl. Doug Rainwater, spokesman for the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office said that to make an arrest for theft by deception or theft by conversion, they “have to be convinced that he set out to deprive a person of money.”
Authorities said Watson is under investigation in Forsyth and Banks counties and the city of Gainesville. To date, he has not been charged with any crime.
According to a Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office incident report filed May 21, 2018, when Lindy pressed Watson for the funds owed him and the status of his boat, “Shane told him that he spoke to his attorney and was not going to pay the entire amount.”
Lindy said that he eventually managed to reclaim some of the money that was promised to him, but when he did receive the funds they were short $5,000.
“He said, ‘I'm going to just take that off the boat that you are picking up.’ But there is no boat. I know that,” Lindy said.