Champion powerboat racer and yacht broker from Egg Harbor Township, who faked his disappearance in a staged boating accident in 2014 to avoid prosecution, has admitted to sending a false distress call to the Coast Guard and submitting fraudulent information for a loan.
U.S. Attorney Rachael Honig says 51-year-old Andrew Biddle pleaded guilty Wednesday to one count of bank fraud and one count of causing the U.S. Coast Guard to render unnecessary aid.
On June 25, 2014, Biddle submitted documents to secure a loan for $55,000 from Southeast Financial Credit Union.
Biddle listed as collateral for the loan a boat and provided a fraudulent appraisal document for the boat.
Biddle also submitted to Southeast Financial a document that falsely listed his gross earnings as owner of Professional Boat Sales, Service & Storage in Egg Harbor Township, New Jersey; a document that falsely inflated the net income for the business; and a fraudulent income tax return.
Based on those fraudulent documents Southeast Financial funded the loan and deposited $55,000 into Biddle’s account.
Between February 2014 and July 2014, the Egg Harbor Township Police Department filed theft charges against Biddle. Biddle admitted that on July 20, 2014, he and his friend, Justin Belz, took a boat out of Seavillage Marina in Northfield and traveled across Great Egg Harbor Inlet to a restaurant in Somers Point to have dinner.
During dinner, Biddle and the passenger —Belz —finalized a scheme to fake Biddle’s disappearance. After dinner, Biddle and his passenger traveled back to the marina by boat. The passenger dropped Biddle off between two piers so that he could be picked up by another individual and driven out of the area.
The passenger then continued back to Seaville Marina and he intentionally hit a navigational marker in Great Egg Harbor Inlet near Longport. The collision caused the passenger to be ejected from the boat.
Belz caused someone to call 911 and based on that call, the U.S. Coast Guard, New Jersey State Police and Longport fire/rescue responded to the area to search for and try and save Biddle.
The U.S. Coast Guard and others searched for Biddle using vessels and helicopters on July 20 and 21, 2014. Biddle admitted that while the Coast Guard was searching for him, he was in Florida.
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.
Biddle admitted on Wednesday, June 16, 2021, that he faked his disappearance in order to avoid prosecution by authorities in Atlantic County, but eventually turned himself into authorities in Atlantic County on Feb. 12, 2015.
The count of bank fraud carries a maximum potential penalty of 30 years in prison and a $1 million fine. The false distress call to the U.S. Coast Guard carries a maximum potential penalty of six years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Sentencing is scheduled for Oct. 18, 2021.
“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,” said Risa Merl, who reported that seven months after the incident, Biddle turned himself into police.