A fugitive stole a $1.2 million yacht from upstate New York, sailed it across Lake Champlain for two days, then claimed he was ‘water-testing’ the vessel after being tracked down by a Border Patrol helicopter.
Robert Morris, 56, of Jericho, nabbed the luxury boat, a Jeanneau Prestige 500 dubbed ‘Volans,’ from Rouses Point Marina on Monday morning, it is claimed.
He then spent the next 36 hours sailing the pilfered vessel on Lake Champlain, until he was arrested on Tuesday afternoon.
Afterwards, Morris claimed he had permission to take it after being spotted near St Albans in Vermont by Border Patrol agents hunting for the missing yacht, WCAX reported.
Morris was apprehended with the help of the St Alban’s Police Department, who brought the fugitive ashore. The alleged thief is then said to have claimed he was sailing the boat back to its owner Ron McCarthy in Montreal, Canada.
McCathy denied giving Morris permission to do so – and police asked Morris why he had been sailing south towards Vermont when he was caught, rather than north to Canada.
A wanted fugitive stole a $1.2 million yacht from a lake in upstate New York and drove it across Lake Champlain to Vermont
‘He drove the boat from Rouses Point, New York, to Burton Island, Vermont, so he crossed state lines,’ Deputy State’s Attorney Deb Celis said during Morris’s court appearance on Wednesday.
Morris interrupted Celis and said he was ‘water-testing’ the boat after making mechanical fixes. He gave a slew of excuses as to why he was driving the yacht, including his claim that he’d been asked by yacht owner McCarthy to return the boat to him in Montreal.
But McCarthy said that wasn’t true. And Morris was heading south when he was caught – the opposite direction to Montreal, which sits north in Canada.
When he was caught, Robert Morris, 56, of Jericho, lied that he was ‘water-testing’ it
At the end of his court appearance on Wednesday, Morris gave the middle finger
Morris was seen in a video of his court appearance, published by WCAX, during which he continued to talk over the judge to refute claims made against him. ‘You want to go over the affidavit? I pointed out a bunch of mistakes in bold,’ he said before the judge replied, ‘You might be well advised to just stay silent for now.’
Before leaving the meeting, Morris gave the middle finger to the webcam.
The judge ordered that he undergo a competency exam, WCAX reported.
The Vermont State Police says they found five sets of boat keys on the vessel, which the marina said they were missing, according to an affidavit.
It remains unclear exactly how Morris was able to seize the boat, how he knew it was owned by McCarthy, and whether he had any prior sailing experience.
Morris is a wanted fugitive in New Hampshire with a list of prior arrests, according to WCAX. He is being held at the Northwest State Correctional Facility and had his court arraignment on Wednesday.
He is staying at his uncle’s house in Alburgh, his defense attorney said, but is set to be extradited to New York to face additional charges, including possession of stolen property.
The boat’s owner Ron McCarthy, of Montreal, keeps his boat docked at Rouses Point marina
Celis called Morris a ‘flight risk’ and requested a $25,000 bond. ‘He has little to no contacts with the state of Vermont,’ she says in the video. ‘He advised police that he was homeless and had not been in the area for 20 years.’
Local residents from Rouses Point said the incident shocked them as the community is usually low on crime. Ralph and Ann Choiniere, both retired, have lived there most of their lives and are frequent guests of the Safe Harbor Gaines Marina, where they go on bike rides and admire the boats.
‘Just sort of a hobby of ours,’ Ralph told WCAX. ‘We have no burglaries, we have no armed robbery, we have none of that stuff. That is surprising, yes it is.’
‘It’s sad,’ his wife Ann added.