Exclusive: Blake Gang Arrested, Small-Town Belize Cop Recovers Stolen $1.5 Million Cat
Alleged 'Tifosi' Thieves Caught Shoplifting at Ambergris Caye
As this is being written, a court in Belize City is deciding the fate of three Texans who stole a $1.5 million catamaran from a Fort Lauderdale marina last month (and the baby they took along for the ride). The Blake Gang’s luck ran out Wednesday, after a 35-day joyride through the Caribbean during which the trio managed to stay well ahead of their pursuers.
Todd Schwede is a marine investigator whose firm helped coordinate the investigation. According to Schwede, recovery agents were able to reconstruct the route the Blake Gang took with Tifosi, the 58-foot Fontaine-Pajot catamaran missing from Pier 66 since Sept. 2o.
As Loose Cannon has reported, the first place Tifosi—renamed Drip—turned up was was at Hawk’s Nest Marina at Cat Island in the Bahamas, where the Blakes skipped out without paying dockage and big fuel bill on Sept. 28.
They next appeared on Oct. 15 when the boat’s heretofore inactive AIS pinged her position at anchor off the northwest shore of Isla Mujeres, which was relayed to the world by a passing cruise ship.
Where had she been during the 18 days in between?
According to Schwede, the Blakes had sailed Tifosi to Grenada, where they stuck on yet another name, calling her Aries, and then headed to Isla Mujeres on a passage along the South Coast of Cuba, where another AIS ping may or may not have been broadcast.
When the Isla Mujeres ping came to their attention, investigating agents of the National Insurance Crime Bureau reached out to associated in Mexico, but Schwede estimated that they were probably two or three days late. Aries was nowhere to be found.
Now the pursuers weren’t certain of where to go next. Maybe they had sold the boat into the Cancun charter fleet, where it would certainly have been modified beyond easy recognition. Maybe they had turned northward and set a course for their home state of Texas. Maybe they went south toward the hidey holes of the Western Caribbean.
South it was. They had anchored off the eastern shore of Ambergris Caye, about two miles north of the settlement of San Pedro. The crew dinghied into shore and rented a golf cart to take them shopping in town. Shoplifting, that is.
A storeowner shared surveillance video with one of the island’s beach police—reportedly a woman cop—and she figured the whole thing out. Arrested Wednesday were:
David Blake Pendergrast, according to a Georgia drivers license, who initially identified himself as a lawyer and owner of the vessel. (Yes, he had given his real middle name to the Hawk’s Nest dockmaster.)
Karim Hisham Osman, holder of a texas drivers license and father of the two-year-old boy, who had been taken from his mother without authorization.
And Elexa Taylor Chism, companion of Osman and holder of a U.S. passport, though not stamped for Belize.
The officer identified the thieves using the video and the fact that they were driving a golf cart and tracked them down by herself. When none of them could provide adequate identification, she detained them, called for backup, and the Blakes were brought in for questioning.
Smooth Talking Guy
Pendergrast, described as a smooth-talker, admitted that they were staying on a catamaran at anchor. Police allowed him, the woman and toddler to return to the boat with a promise that they would come back the next with their passports and ship’s documents. They kept Osman at the jail for insurance.
Meanwhile, the officer began Googling. She turned up Loose Cannon’s accounts of the Tifosi theft. She spoke to Belize border officials, then telephoned the U.S. Embassy at Belize City, sending photos of the IDs carried by her three suspects. Embassy staff told her the catamaran was stolen, and there was an oustanding arrest warrant for Pendergrast.
The three adults were arrested, the baby was placed in the care of social workers—all sent to Belize City—and the two dogs were taken to animal control kennels. Tifosi has been secured to the Amigos Del Mar docks in San Pedro.
Schwede said that as soon as the paperwork is completed, a delivery crew will be dispatched to bring Tifosi back to Fort Lauderdale.
As for the beat cop who solved the case, she probably won’t get the $20,000 reward because, according to Schwede, law enforcement officers are ineligible.
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