Repayment delay angers tugboat firm investors

April 18, 1994|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,Sun Staff Writer

Four years after a Pasadena ship captain talked Brian Silber into an investment that went sour and two years after the captain was ordered to repay $5,447 from bad checks, Mr. Silber has not seen a penny of the money.

He and four others who invested in Capt. James E. Taylor's failed dredging and tugboat company are angry at Taylor, who they say conned them out of thousands of dollars.

And they are furious at a court system they say has failed them.

Taylor, who was convicted in Anne Arundel Circuit Court in 1992 of writing bogus checks on the company's account, "belongs in jail if anyone does," says Mr. Silber, 43, a building contractor based in Pikesville. He says he lost $80,000.

"This is what infuriates me. I've gotten no satisfaction whatsoever out of how the court system handled this," Mr. Silber said.

But Judge Raymond G. Thieme Jr., who ordered Taylor to repay the bad check money in six months, then changed that to five years, says Mr. Silber won't get his money any faster if Taylor is in jail.

"The guy owes them money, they're upset about that, and I don't blame them, I'd be upset too. But that's all I can do," Judge Thieme said.

Taylor, 55, a licensed ship captain from Pasadena, said he intends to pay but that he has paid considerably already. He lost his job, and consequently his waterfront house and much of his professional reputation, he said.

"If he [Mr. Silber] had kept his mouth shut, we'd still be in business and we'd all be making money," Taylor said.

Taylor and Mr. Silber met in 1990 when Taylor answered an advertisement for a home improvement crew at Mr. Silber's office.

Mr. Silber hired Taylor to supervise several home improvement jobs for his customers. Over the next few months, Taylor told Mr. Silber that he planned to start a tugboat and dredging company and was looking for investors.

There was money to be made on the water, Taylor said. Big money.

"The numbers that this guy was talking about were phenomenal. He was talking about making seven-figure deals," said Mr. Silber.

Mr. Silber got together a group of investors that included his father-in-law, his brother-in-law and an acquaintance who is an accountant.

Using their $500,000 and Taylor's plans, they purchased three tugs and a crew boat and formed Taylor Marine Services in January 1991.

For the first six months, the company did well.

Working out of a rented houseboat at the White Rocks Marina in Pasadena, the company used its tugs to haul oil, tug larger ships and help with dredging projects in the waters off Texas, Massachusetts and Virginia.

bTC The American Dredge and Dock Co. hired them to haul heavy equipment to Wrightsville Beach, N.C. The 10-day job paid $90,000.

"It really looked as if we could make it," Mr. Silber said.

But it all began to unravel in August 1991 when Mr. Silber discovered that Taylor, as company president, had made out 12 company checks, worth nearly $11,000, to crew members and cashed them for himself at a Pasadena branch of Signet Bank.

Mr. Silber fired Taylor and filed criminal charges against him Aug. 1991.

The trial was postponed at least a half-dozen times because Taylor repeatedly failed to show up, said Joseph Reina, assistant state's attorney.

And Mr. Silber called repeatedly to inquire about the status of the case, Mr. Reina said.

"In terms of the time that was involved, it was one of the most difficult cases I can remember," Mr. Reina said.

Taylor pleaded guilty June 9, 1992, to writing bad checks and paid back half the money he had taken. He was placed on five years' probation by Judge Thieme and ordered to repay the remaining $5,447 within six months.

Later, Judge Thieme changed the order, allowing Taylor the full five years of his probationary term to make restitution.

He said he may well send Taylor to jail if he does not pay up. But putting him in jail now wouldn't get Mr. Silber his money back any sooner, he said.

After the conviction, Mr. Silber tried running the company himself.

But the operation went under about a year later, the victim of Taylor's criminal conviction and the cancellation of a $750,000 federally backed loan.

The Small Business Administration backed out of the loan it had tentatively approved after it learned about the conviction of Taylor -- who was the only experienced seaman in the company.

"The loan fell through, and we went under because we didn't have the capital to go forward," Mr. Silber said.

The five investors lost $350,000.

Mr. Silber says he is convinced Taylor was out to con him from the start, but Taylor denies that.

Mr. Silber said Taylor wrote bogus checks to crew members, paying them to work on a nonexistent job, then forged the crew members' signatures on the backs of the checks and cashed them.

"He stole money from all of us," said Sidney Rowen, a retired insurance executive who also was an investor and is Mr. Silber's father-in-law.

Taylor said he sank the money from the fraudulent checks back into the business, using the cash to repair one of the company's aging tugs.

"I'd take an oath on my father's grave that that money did not go into my own pocket," he said.

He acknowledged that writing the fraudulent checks was wrong. But he said if Mr. Silber had just confronted him about the checks, he would have admitted it, they could have worked out their differences, and the company could have been saved.

Taylor said the company went under because Mr. Silber was too cheap with the company's funds to make a go of it.

"They never wanted to spend the money they had to spend to keep things going," Taylor said.

The investors will get their money, he insisted. "But I can't give to them what I don't have."

But Mr. Silber and the other investors say that Taylor never should have been given so long to pay the remaining $5,447.

"It makes you ask yourself, what has to happen for someone to be put in jail in this country," wondered Mr. Rowen. "Do they have to murder someone?"

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