By Andrea Papagianis
Nearly four years after emptying his bank accounts and leaving Dana Point, a former-yacht broker was arrested in south Florida today and charged with defrauding 26 victims of more than $1.5 million, officials said.
Edward Sellers Fitzgerald, 60, a former south Orange County resident, was arrested today in Delray Beach, Fla.—north of Boca Raton—by the Delray Beach Police Department on a $1.6 million warrant from Orange County, said Farrah Emami, spokeswoman for the Orange County District Attorney’s Office.
A 27-year veteran of the yacht brokerage business, Fitzgerald is accused of operating a fraudulent investment and sale scheme, and is charged with a total of 58 felonies. Authorities say Fitzgerald emptied his bank accounts in July 2009 and disappeared without a trace.
Fitzgerald owned and operated a local brokerage, Dana Island Yacht Sales and Charters, which authorities believe he used to secure loans from investors under the guise of purchasing and selling yachts. After leaving in 2009, earlier reports indicate, Fitzgerald mailed letters to friends and employees claiming he hadn’t done anything illegal. The letters were post-marked from San Diego.
The Orange County Sheriff’s Department became involved shortly thereafter when sources came forward with reports of missing money and Fitzgerald’s disappearance.
Sheriffs turned the investigation over to the District Attorney in 2011, said Sean O’Brien, the deputy district attorney prosecuting the case. Initial reports placed Fitzgerald in Hawaii, O’Brien said, but investigators with the DA’s Office were able to locate him in southern Florida.
O’Brien said they built their case for months before the local police department executed the county’s arrest warrant. Fitzgerald now awaits extradition.
O’Brien said Fitzgerald has two choices.
One would be to waive extradition, whereby sheriffs would travel to Florida to bring Fitzgerald back for booking in Orange County.
Two, Fitzgerald could fight extradition. If he goes this route, O’Brien said a Florida court would have to determine whether or not the man arrested is in fact Edward Fitzgerald. If a court in Florida confirms his identity, Gov. Jerry Brown will issue a request for Fitzgerald’s return to Calif. O’Brien said this could delay his return by two or three months.
According to the DA’s Office, Fitzgerald is charged with eight felony counts of theft from an elder, 14 counts of issuing non-sufficient checks with the intent to defraud, 17 counts of grand theft and 19 counts of using untrue statements in the purchase or sale of securities.
If convicted of all charges, Fitzgerald faces up to 58 years in state prison.