True Crime Thursday – Motorized Surfboard Fraud

Photo credit: Brent Storm – Unsplash

By Debbie Burke

@burke_writer

 

Cowabunga! was a popular exclamation by surfers in the 1960s. An earlier iteration, kawabunga, was coined on “The Howdy-Doody Show” in the 1950s. In the 1990s, the Ninja Turtles revived cowabunga’s popularity.

In 2016, Roberto Clark, 50, of Palm Bay, Florida, had a concept for motorized surfboards he called “Jetboards” that apparently caused some investors to holler “Cowabunga!”

Between 2016 and 2019, Clark convinced people he met in bars, restaurants, and adult entertainment establishments in Virginia, Maryland, and D.C. to invest in his company, KRM Services. KRM was supposed to manufacture Jetboards to be sold at big profits to cruise lines and water sports companies. Clark had a patent, purchase orders, and signed, notarized contracts to prove substantial buyer interest. He collected more than $350,000 from 14 investors.

Only one problem: he never manufactured any Jetboards.

The patent, purchase orders, and buyer contracts were falsified.

Investors’ money went, not to build Jetboards, but to finance Clark’s luxurious lifestyle. According to court filings by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, he spent: “at least $41,000 to restaurants and bars; at least $19,000 to hotels; at least $15,000 to family members; at least $8,000 to department and clothing stores; at least $5,000 to convenience and gas stores; at least $3,000 to grocery and liquor stores; at least $1,000 to gyms; at least $1,500 to spas and beauty salons; at least $1,000 to pet stores and groomers; and at least $200 to a bail bondsman.

That last expense might have been incurred in March, 2018, when the Fairfax County Police Department arrested Clark.

Yet he brazenly continued to solicit more investors as late as 2019. When suspicious victims demanded return of their money, Clark paid some of them…with checks that bounced.

Photo credit: Kurt Anderson – Unsplash

The Jetboard scam wiped out once and for all in January, 2021, when Clark was found guilty of multiple charges including securities fraud. He was sentenced to six years in prison and fined $400,000.

Here’s hoping his victims were compensated and hollered, “Cowabunga!”

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No TKZer would ever invest in a company whose owner they met in a bar or adult establishment, right? Do you know anyone who has?

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If you invest in Debbie Burke’s new thriller Flight to Forever, she absolutely guarantees she will yell: “Cowabunga!” Please check it out at this link.

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About Debbie Burke

Debbie writes Tawny Lindholm Thrillers with Heart...and Sass. The first book in the series, Instrument of the Devil, won the Kindle Scout contest and the Zebulon Award. Additional books in the series are Stalking Midas, Eyes in the Sky, Dead Man's Bluff, Crowded Hearts, and Flight to Forever. Debbie's articles have won journalism awards in international publications. She is a founding member of Authors of the Flathead and helps to plan the annual Flathead River Writers Conference in Kalispell, Montana. Her greatest joy is mentoring young writers. http://www.debbieburkewriter.com

24 thoughts on “True Crime Thursday – Motorized Surfboard Fraud

  1. Thanks for yet another great story, Debbie. I am amazed that this guy got any investors. Or maybe not. I don’t exactly hang with a lot of surfers, but my general impression from listening to Beach Boys albums and watching the original Point Break movie is that a motorized surfboard would somehow defeat the purpose of the activity to the extent that someone who used one would be ragged on or worse by serious enthusiasts. Of course, some folks might think it cool that they were investing in a surfboard company. That’s quite a story, in any event. Enjoy your day!

    To answer your question…I don’t know anyone who has invested in a company in a bar, but I have heard from a reliable source about a guy who used to flip houses in bars. He’d used a cocktail napkin to draw up the agreements. There was also a guy in Nashville who would commandeer a booth in a Shoney’s and sign up publicity agreements for would-be musicians that, um, nobody ever heard of. it takes all kinds.

    • Morning, Joe, and wishing you a good day, also.

      I’m a former San Diegan who spent time at Windansea, the OB pier, and Black’s Beach (where real badasses carried their boards up and down a 300-foot sheer cliff). Back in Beach Boys’ days, someone on a motorized board would draw hoots of derision.

      Nowadays, I think motorized boards could find an enthusiastic following among people who want to pose as surfers w/o all that hard work paddling. If Roberto Clark was an honest businessman who delivered on his promises, he might have been a big success.

  2. Great story, Debbie. I don’t know of anyone who has invested in a company at a bar or an adult establishment, but I don’t run with those types.

    After reading your story, I thought that maybe I should start a company to build motorized paddle boards, since they are all the rage right now. But, alas, Google tells me that motorized paddle boards are already being made. (I never could understand why anybody would want to paddle a floating device with the mechanical disadvantage of standing up….unless they wanted to show off their beautiful legs or good tan.)

    But, I do have a bridge I want to sell you.

  3. Hey, I used to say “cowabunga” back in the ’60s (when I was a high school surfer). And then I picked up “vachement” when I started speaking French in the ’70s. “Vachement” is (was) an adverb or “intensifier” meaning “really” or “very” as in C’est vachement difficile! (It’s really hard). Vache is the word for cow in French. So it’s all about the cows!

    Did you hear the one about the cow who walked into an adult entertainment establishment . . .

  4. That’s quite a tale, Debbie. It’s funny, when I think of investment con artists, I tend to think of Madoff-level ones, who bilk millions and millions from a horde of investors, and forget that much of this happens around smaller groups of people. Certainly $350K is not chump change.

    I’m also reminded that for a con to work, the mark has to want the “too-good-to-be true” deal, but I have to think in this case, this guy was especially persuasive. Then again, I suspect most con artists are. Thanks for a fun and thought-provoking post this Thursday.

    • You’re welcome, Dale.

      Yes, the Madoffs make headlines but smaller-scale crooks still bilk billions from ordinary folks seeking to get rich quick. Scammers are psychologically savvy on ways to profit from people’s dreams.

  5. I don’t have a scammer-in-the-bar story, but possibly one more insanely wrong.

    The church I attend puts out a directory of attenders’ names, addresses, phone numbers, and emails (whatever the person wants to include). We went digital with a “church directory app” a few years back.

    Now, not a month goes by that we don’t get phony emails from a supposed attender asking us to buy a gift card for their destitute son or daughter, or to meet them somewhere to make a “gift” exchange. We have to be vigilant even in church…

    Our wonderful technology sometimes ain’t so wonderful. 🙁

  6. Interesting story. I’d love to see a motorized surfboard in action. It could beat the wave to the shore!

    Maybe one good thing Covid brought to us was that bars were closed.

    • Kay, a motorized surfboard is kinda like an electric bike. Both do the hard work.

      Montana factoid: Liquor stores stayed open as “essential businesses” and recorded their best sales ever but bookstores were closed. Go figure.

  7. I know several people who have sent thousands to anonymous voices on the phone they met on an email. One has “won” three Mercedes, two Chevy’s, and a Ford Mustang. Or at least has paid the taxes and shipping on them all.

    Know someone who lost about $15,000 in a cigar company that started over cigars and scotch in a nice bar.

  8. I know people who have lost a good deal of money in adult establishments. Most of it was on a per transaction basis. Although one guy bought “the love of his live” a car. She did not feel the same way about him.

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