They plunged $600K into speedboats. Now their deal is taking on water.

That Sinking Feeling 

They plunged $600K into speedboats. Now their deal is taking on water.

Scott Lukouski and Michael Redman share a passion for the water and a need for speed. So when the two friends craved dueling speedboats, they went to National Marine, the Youngstown company whose website declares it "the nation's largest performance boat dealer," boasting 18 years in the business.

Lukouski set his eyes on the $250,000 Fountain Lightning, a white-and-yellow beauty capable of hitting 88 mph. Redman went for the $380,000 Fountain Express, which goes 70 mph and sleeps an entire family. Between them, they forked over $630,000 to National Marine this spring, then waited for delivery. And waited.

But their ships may never come in. National Marine was accused in a federal lawsuit last week of defrauding more than 60 people, taking their money but never delivering the promised speedboats, jet skis, and yachts. The suit also names Sky Financial Group, the Warren bank that extended enough credit for National Marine to buy boats like they were candy bars.

"Usually, banks will check inventory once a month to make sure that nothing has been sold that the bank hasn't been paid for," says Barbara Quinn Smith, the Sandusky lawyer representing Lukouski and Redman. "We're not sure yet what exactly happened, but something very clearly went wrong that enabled this to continue happening." Smith hopes to fold their suit into a class action.

National Marine owner Bill Hionas could not be reached for comment. He was in Cleveland, attending another court case.

Burned rubber

Thirteen years ago, corn farmer Kenneth Smith made a gentleman's agreement with a stranger named Mashi Barre, who generously let Smith in on a little business opportunity: Barre had just signed a contract with Goodyear to remove 3,000 tons of scrap rubber from its factories. Only problem: She had nowhere to put it. So for an undisclosed sum, she convinced Smith to harbor the tires on his farm in Caledonia, 45 miles north of Columbus, until Barre could find a better place.

Barre may have found a better place, but not for the rubber. After dumping the waste on Smith's land, she skipped town without paying him and hasn't been heard from since. Now the Ohio EPA wants the pile cleaned up, and Smith's left holding the bill -- an estimated $370,000.

"I guess I should have had a contract, but I didn't think of it at the time," says Smith, who filed a federal suit last week demanding that Goodyear pick up the tab. "[Barre]'s the one who's responsible, but it all came from [Goodyear]. I don't feel I'm responsible. I'm just an in-between, and I got stuck with it."

Why it's called "Fringe"

Cleveland playwright David Hansen spent last week at the New York International Fringe Festival, the renowned celebration of lesser known works that attracts 50,000 viewers annually.

Hansen was performing his one-man play I Hate This, about the pain of losing his son just before birth. Since festival crowds tend not to crave humor of the stillbirth variety, Hansen arrived with modest goals: A hundred people at his five performances would be a success, he figured.

Instead, Hansen drew only about half that. On opening night, 5 of the 10 people in attendance were critics. The good news: I Hate This earned the lead review in The New York Times. Of Hansen, critic Jason Zinoman beamed, "He turns his pain into a well-made and often affecting drama."

Hansen could say the same about the Fringe Fest.

"I have already cried. Now I want to vomit," he offered after reading the review. "I can't imagine what my reaction would have been if it were negative."

Mob couture

Legendary mobster Danny Green was noted for his uncanny fashion sense: the green Cadillac, the gold chains, the plaid pants. And now thanks to Clevelandmob.com, you too can feel like a high-rolling Mafioso without the hassle of eating a car bomb.

The website offers a complete line of tasteful fashions, from T-shirts emblazoned with the words "There's no Cleveland mob. Anybody sez different we'll break their freakin' legs" to men's thongs boasting "I got your Cleveland Mob right here."

And it's for a worthy cause: The Mafia will receive generous kickbacks from merchandise sales, according to the site's administrator, who demanded anonymity. He refuses to confirm rumors that the site is also a one-stop shop for drugs, gambling, prostitutes, union muscle, and bootleg whiskey.

Full-frontal wieners

Yes, that is Amherst's own Hotdog Heaven featured prominently in the recent Hollywood masterwork Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle. Director Danny Leiner scoured the country for slacker hangouts and fell in love with the Lorain County icon; its logo -- a pair of shivering "chilly" dogs -- appears numerous times in the film.

"We're all over the picture," says Hotdog Heaven maven Jack O'Flanagan, who opened the original store 28 years ago and added his second wiener hut, in Avon Commons, last year. "I've had so many people come in and ask if we're the Hotdog Heaven from the movie."

It's worth noting that Hotdog Heaven closes at 10 p.m. on weekdays. Potheads, indulge your cravings accordingly.

Criminally negligent

First Cleveland lost its manufacturing. Then it failed to jump on the dot-com and biotech bandwagons. Now comes the latest depressing news: We're not very good at crime anymore.

Among the nation's 100 largest metropolitan areas, metro Cleveland ranks as the 26th safest, according to statisticians at Sperling's Best Places. Among the safer cities were Pittsburgh (9), Boston (13), New York (14), and Philadelphia (17). More dangerous cities include San Francisco (27), Akron (34), and Detroit (39).

When the dainty boys in San Fran start beating Cleveland's ass, you know this city has lost its way.

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