By Saja Hindi
Six people were indicted by a grand jury on allegations of running a theft and money-laundering scheme that cost Fort Collins business Blue Ocean Enterprises millions of dollars, court documents show.
A nine-month investigation by the Larimer County Sheriff’s Office, the Colorado Department of Revenue and the Larimer County District Attorney’s Office found evidence that two men led the scheme that took place between 2012 and 2016, resulting in the loss of more than $2.9 million for the OtterBox sister company.
Blue Ocean was started by OtterBox founders Curt and Nancy Richardson. According to the company’s website, it “fuels business activities and investments that share the (Richardson) family’s passions and strengths.”
The Coloradoan requested the indictment Thursday morning, and was told the document was suppressed from public view. However, the District Attorney’s Office released the document Thursday afternoon, four hours after the Coloradoan’s initial story on the case published.
The six people arrested on 41 criminal allegations were 43-year-old Benjamin Davenport, 39-year-old Kirk Smith, 34-year-old Stephanie Johnson, 33-year-old Christopher Reppert, 31-year-old Jeremy Pond and 36-year-old Jason Lewis.
Davenport and Smith are accused of leading the scheme and are both Fort Collins residents.
In an interview, Larimer County Sheriff’s Office Lt. John Feyen said Davenport pitched Blue Ocean the purchase of a wood pellet plant in Demark, or at least the purchase of its equipment.
After Blue Ocean agreed to pursue the idea, Davenport — who reportedly owned a company with Smith — signed an agreement with Blue Ocean for an initial $500,000 cash investment plus up to $3 million in additional funding. Blue Ocean would own majority shares in the company, according to the indictment.
However, the pair kept informing Blue Ocean that they were running into problems getting the company up and running for various reasons, Feyen said.
As Blue Ocean continued to invest more money into the company, the suspects lost more of their ownership stake — eventually diluting it to almost nothing.
In 2015, Blue Ocean severed its partnership with Smith and Davenport as the two had very little equity left in the company, Feyen said, and a short while later, Blue Ocean had the Denmark plant up and running.
In May 2016, Blue Ocean officials received a call from a man named Curtis Beyer.
According to Feyen, Beyer told Blue Ocean that a company he purportedly ran was actually owned by Davenport and Smith, who allegedly used the company to overcharge Blue Ocean for materials for the plant. Beyer said he was promised a portion of the profits by agreeing to pose as the president of the company, but he never received payment.
Beyer was not charged in the investigation.
Blue Ocean officials then launched their own internal investigation and later contacted the Larimer County Sheriff’s Office and the Larimer County District Attorney’s Office. The Colorado Department of Revenue also joined the investigation.
The agencies found inappropriate use of Blue Ocean funds as well as money that was unaccounted for, which reportedly benefited Davenport and Smith, who also run several other companies, Feyen said.
The other four suspects worked with Davenport and Smith and were aware of the scheme, Feyen said.
Davenport is facing 31 felony charges, and Smith is facing 33 felony charges of theft, Colorado Organized Crime Act racketeering, money laundering, forgery, tax evasion and filing false tax returns.
Johnson and Reppert are also facing numerous felony charges of racketeering, theft, forgery, tax evasion, money laundering and misdemeanor failure to file taxes.
Lewis and Pond are each facing felony theft charges, and Pond is facing a felony charge of filing a false tax return while Lewis is facing a misdemeanor charge of failure to file a return.
The suspects were indicted by a grand jury July 25.
All six suspects have since bonded out of jail custody, but they cannot leave the state or country as part of their bond agreements.