Company sues DMR over unclaimed boat

Competition Marine seeking $93,325 to cover refitting, repairs

calee@sunherald.comAugust 27, 2013 

GULFPORT -- Nobody has claimed the Laura C, but "agents" of the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources delivered the 45-foot cabin cruiser in April 2012 to Competition Marine, asking that it be refitted and repaired, according to a lawsuit filed in Circuit Court.

Competition Marine, which has worked on a number of DMR vessels, is suing the state agency and any unknown parties with an interest in the boat.

Competition wants a judge to find the company has a valid lien on the boat for $93,325 in refitting and repairs, plus unspecified amounts for boat maintenance and storage, and legal and court costs.

The lawsuit seeks a court order allowing the Harrison County Sheriff's Office to seize and sell the boat, or give the company title to it, to satisfy the debt.

The lawsuit says the DMR has denied any interest in the boat. Gulfport attorney Richard C. Smith, who represents Competition Marine, said the Laura C's registration lapsed several years ago, with no known owner.

Smith said the DMR employee or employees who dropped off the boat said the

refitting and repairs were for the DMR.

"We can't figure out who owns this boat," Smith said. "We just need to determine if the DMR has any interest in that vessel. We're treating it as an abandoned vessel. However, the last people who expressed any interest in it was the DMR."

DMR spent on boats

DMR Executive Director Jamie Miller did not return the Sun Herald's telephone calls about the boat. Instead, spokeswoman Melissa Scallan called to say the DMR never had a lease on the Laura C.

The DMR leased two other boats, the Californian and Topaz, from the Mississippi Marine Resources Foundation, an entity managed by Bill Walker. Walker was the DMR's executive director until mid-January, when the board fired him amid allegations of mismanagement. Some of those allegations involved the Californian and Topaz.

Walker has denied any wrongdoing.

The DMR spent more than $1.4 million to repair and upgrade the two boats. The DMR recently sold the boats to the highest bidders for less than $126,114.05. The DMR kept equipment it had installed on the boats.

Boats donated

The foundation had acquired both boats from David Harris, who has for years run a boat-donation program in Ocean Springs, first at the YMCA and then at a charity he created in 2008 named YADA, Youth Alternative Development Activities. Boats were donated to the charities for tax write-offs.

Harris could not be reached to comment. However, in December, Harris showed the Sun Herald boat documents that included a letter about the Laura C. The letter from Harris was dated Dec. 20, 2009, and addressed to Louis Capozzoli of Baton Rouge.

It said, "YADA is grateful for the donation of the 'Laura C.' We will not sell this vessel prior to April 16, 2015."

Capozzoli died in 2011 at age 82, said his widow, Laura Capozzoli, for whom the boat was named. She said her husband was ill in 2009 and no longer had any use for the boat when he donated it. She did not remember any details about the donation.

She said she and her husband had used the boat for offshore fishing and trips to Ship Island.

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