By Gene Kira, September 8, 2003, as published in Western Outdoor News:
With one exception (see below), the investigating detective in the Capitan Villegas panga mothership booking scandal at San Felipe, Baja California, Mexico, has asked victims to please stop phoning or faxing evidence to the Santa Paula, Calif., Police Department.
Detective Joey de los Reyes said last week that nearly one-hundred people now appear to be involved in the Capitan Villegas mothership case, in which booking agents Ernie Peñaloza and his former partner Gordon Byrne are accused of not delivering deposits collected from clients to the San Felipe mothership's owner, Hector Villegas. (On July 27, the Capitan Villegas stranded 30 anglers on the dock in San Felipe when Villegas refused to sail without the money.)
In a similar case, Peñaloza failed to appear recently at a hearing in Ventura, CA Superior Court during which a $4,233 judgment was won by the four last known plaintiffs--Austin Jenkins, Lawrence Lambert, Curtis Nicks, and Ray Borge--for trips lost last year on another San Felipe mothership, the Erik.
The Erik's owner, Gustavo Velez, said he may never receive the money collected by Peñaloza and Byrne, but that he had nevertheless agreed to give these last four victims free replacement trips on his boat. Jenkins said: "I can report that Gustavo and I have resolved the misunderstanding...I am satisfied that Gustavo will carry out his end of this agreement satisfactorily."
Together with free replacement trips given to other stranded clients booked by Peñaloza and Byrne, this final settlement for the Erik would bring Velez' total losses in the case to about $50,000, including travel and legal expenses. He said last week that he has now personally covered all known victims, and he feels that his boat's reputation has been vindicated, even though it nearly put him out of business.
As for the Capitan Villegas, Santa Paula Police Detective De los Reyes confirmed that Peñaloza had deposited a refund check made out to stranded charter master Doug Boyd. Boat owner Hector Villegas had earlier confirmed that he would give replacement trips to all known victims of the scam. In San Felipe and the U.S., several contacts confirmed having had discussions with Villegas about buying the boat.
In Santa Paula, Detective De los Reyes said a criminal investigation is underway, and he is methodically collecting names, calling victims, and gathering evidence. With the sole exception of people booked on a Capitan Villegas trip that was scheduled Aug. 3-8, De los Reyes asked everyone involved not to call or send faxes at this time, because such interruptions actually slow down the investigation, rather than help it. "People are randomly calling," he said. "We can't get back to everybody. People on these trips should contact their charter master. They will be contacted. Please, go through your charter master. Don't fax the Police Department."
Due to the number of people involved, De los Reyes said it may be three or four months before everybody is contacted. He asked people to be patient, adding that he needs specific evidence from specific people, and anything else just gets in the way. De los Reyes said he now has all the names for the trips lead by charter masters Doug Boyd, Claudio Beltran, Harold Davis, and a previously unknown trip to La Paz led by a charter master listed as Kevin Green. These people will all eventually be interviewed, he said.
NOTE: De los Reyes said, however, that he is having trouble locating people who may have paid to go on a Capitan Villegas trip scheduled Aug. 3-8, and for these people only, he requested that they call him or Detective Kenneth Clark at 805-933-4237. All others are requested not to call or fax at this time, but to work strictly through their charter masters. (Please, amigos, let's be patient and let the man do his job.)
(Related San Felipe articles and reports may be found at Mexfish.com's main San Felipe information page. See weekly fishing news, photos, and reports from the major sportfishing vacation areas of Mexico including the San Felipe area in "Mexico Fishing News.")