February 24, 2016The owner of Ponders Boat Sales and Services in Taswell, Robert Jones, faces 19 counts of theft totaling at least $40,000 spanning from March 2012 to October 2014. Of those 19 counts, 11 are Class D felonies, two are Class A misdemeanors and six are Level 6 felonies.
"Sometime in 2012, Mr. Jones started taking money and not performing work," Crawford County Prosecutor Nicholas Haverstock said. "He started selling people motors that he didn't even own. He would sell boats and not pay the people the money that he was selling on behalf of."
"He would do boat storage, as well," he continued. "People would pay him to store their boat, and he would sell their boat. Other times he would take motors from people and sell the same motor twice to two different people. He was just doing whatever he could to get money."
Haverstock said the case was inherited from the previous administration.
"It was sitting on my desk Jan. 1 (2015), when I took office," he said. "The previous prosecutor was hesitant to file because some of the things may be civil in nature versus criminal. I decided to file it because there's just too many people that were owed money by this individual and I believe he was intentionally doing this stuff, which makes it a crime."
According to the affidavit for probable cause written by Andy Beals, investigator with the Crawford County Prosecutor's Office, Indiana State Police Det. Phil Stowers met with Robert Jones at his brother's residence in Depauw on July 29, 2014, to read him his Miranda Rights and to discuss the investigation with him. During that discussion, Jones told Stowers that he had only sold two items, one being a 90 HP Mercury motor and the other a Bass Tracker boat. Jones, according to the court document, said he sold the motor during the week of July 26, 2014, after taking it off a pontoon boat that belonged to someone else.
"Jones said that he sold the motor because he needed to make a living," Beals said.
Jones also is believed to have sold the Bass Tracker for $2,800 on Feb. 28, 2014.
"He said it was not his boat to sell and he didn't have a lien on the boat," Beals said. "He also said that he sold another boat to (the same person), which also wasn't his to sell. He said that he didn't know the owner."
Twenty victims and their statements were included on the probable cause affidavit, with one victim's case dating back to March 2012.
In one statement, the victim said that he had left his 1987 17-foot Sunbird boat, Indiana boat registration and a Mercury outboard motor in the storage lot at Ponders. The victim said his storage was paid and that he was last at Ponders in June 2014.
"He stated on May 9, 2015, he went to Ponders to collect his boat and transport it home to sell," Beals said. "He stated upon arriving at Ponders he noticed that no boats were in the storage area and his boat was gone."
In a different statement, another victim reported that her boat was stored at Ponders and was missing the following: 75 HP Mercury outboard motor, four life jackets, two tackle boxes, three sets of Stearns rain gear, six rod and reel combos, starting battery for outboard motor, motor guide electric trolling motor, deep cycle battery for trolling motor and two boat battles.
"In addition to this, the steering, throttle and forward/reverse shift cables were cut and the fuel lines were also cut," Beals said.
Jones, who's been arrested four times since 2014 — twice for theft, once for operating while intoxicated and once for perjury — pled not guilty in his initial hearing, which concluded last Thursday. His bond was set at $15,000 full cash.
"I argued for it not to be reduced any," Haverstock said. "The bad part is, the longer he sits in jail, the less money anybody is going to get. He can't be paying back these victims if he's sitting in jail, but, at the same time, he needs to be punished for what he did. I've had I don't know how many people come up to me and want to know when Robert Jones is going to get prosecuted, and the answer is today."
Haverstock explained that the reason Jones' charges range from Class A misdemeanors, Class D felonies and Level 6 felonies is because the Indiana criminal code changed on July 1, 2014, in which theft would not be considered a felony unless the items stolen have a value greater than $750 or the person steals a firearm or has a prior theft conviction.
"That's when theft became an A misdemeanor or a Level 6 felony," Haverstock said. "If it happened before then, it was a Class D felony, so that's why there's a mixture. I believe, if he's convicted of everything, the maximum is four years."
Haverstock said the issue with this case is that Jones was alleged to have stolen so much money that there's no possible way every victim will get every dollar that was taken from them.
"The best we can hope is to get everybody a little bit back that was stolen, because the most he would be on probation would be up to four years, and that's if he does no jail time," he said.
However, Haverstock is optimistic this case will get resolved without a trial, which would, in turn, cost the county money.
"There's a mountain of evidence against him," he said.
Jones is next due in court on April 7 at 9 a.m.