Boater who faked his own death surrenders to police

17 February 2015 • Written by Risa Merl

Champion powerboat racer and yacht broker Andrew Biddle, who was accused of faking his own death in a boating accident last summer, has turned himself into the police. Since his disappearance it became apparent that Andrew Biddle was facing fraud charges, along with his colleague, Tracy Blumenstein, at Professional Boat Sales, Service & Storage in Egg Harbour Township, New Jersey. According to the Associated Press, he was indicted on three counts of theft by deception, accused of taking boats in trade and reselling them without paying back the loans. The pair were also accused of writing bad cheques worth upwards of $30,000.

Andrew Biddle and his friend, Justin Belz, were involved in an accident on 20 July 2014 when their pontoon boat hit a buoy in Longport, New Jersey, USA. He and his friend both went into the water, and a witness, Tom Murphy, heard the cries of help from Belz. Murphy helped pulled Belz to shore, but Biddle could not be found.

His disappearance set off an 18-hour search, with multiple US Coast Guard helicopters and boats scouring an estimated a 155 square kilometre area. The Coast Guard called off the search at 6pm on 21 July. “We conducted a nearly 20-hour search, but after exhausting all resources, the chances for survival based on water temperature and time in the water is slim”, Lt. K Moore, commander of the US Coast Guard Station Atlantic City, New Jersey reported.

Egg Harbor Township Police Chief Michael Morris told a local newspaper that police “are obligated to continue the investigation until there is a death declaration.” New Jersey State Police continued to search for Biddle, but the search turned to a manhunt as the fraud charges came to light.

Despite Andrew Biddle's powerboat championship ranking – according to the American Power Boat Association records, he holds the top spot in the SuperStock Class P-1 offshore racing category – he could not outrun the law on this occasion, or chose not to anyway. Now seven months after the incident, Andrew Biddle has come forward and turned himself into police. "He recently called me and said he wanted to step up to the plate and take responsibility", attorney Mark Roddy told The Press of Atlantic City. "I told him, if he was serious, to call me when he was back in the area, and I would set something up." His lawyer says Biddle won't reveal where he's been hiding out since July, and he most likely returned because of concern for his wife and children.

Tom Murphy, first responder to the scene of the accident who saved Biddle's friend, was interviewed on a local CBS news TV affiliate as saying, "I really hope they throw the book at him, I hope he gets the max penalty. I’m pretty angry about it. Just to put other people’s lives at risk trying to pull off a ridiculous stunt like this. And to think he thought he could get away with it.”

Biddle appeared before a judge 12 February in Atlantic County, New Jersey. A trial has not yet been set for his fraud.

According to the US Coast Guard, every year hundreds of thousands of dollars are wasted in hoax rescue calls. Penalties for making a fake call are serious, including six years in prison, a $250,000 criminal fine, $5,000 civil fine, and a fee levied to reimburse the U.S. Coast Guard for the cost of performing the search.

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