The small, remote native village in Alaska needed the boat.
Igiugig can only be reached by boats or planes, and no roads connect to neighboring communities. Most of the 71 residents are Yup’ik, Aleut and Athabascan peoples who primarily hunt, fish and gather plants to live. Barges and planes deliver supplies to the village, but residents pay steep prices for shipping.
So, when the federal government awarded the village a grant for its own tugboat in 2015, local leaders proclaimed it a step toward “a sustainable local economy, creating jobs and training the local workforce.”
Plus, the tugboat could help deploy and maintain a new river power generator intended to end the village’s reliance on diesel fuel, officials said.
“The opportunities for this boat will be endless,” leaders said in a village newsletter. “There will be nothing like it. We are all excited for it to be working for us soon.”
Igiugig hired Missouri-based Lakeland and Marine to construct the vessel and paid the company $242,375.
But the boat would never arrive.
The village was among nearly two dozen customers ripped off by 53-year-old Michael David Dismer, according to federal prosecutors. In a plea agreement, the Rogersville business owner admitted to defrauding customers of more than $4 million by selling “incomplete, inoperable or unseaworthy vessels” or simply not providing anything in return.
As part of the scheme, Dismer provided customers “misleading photographs” and “false representations” of the construction progress to induce more payments, authorities said. In a newsletter, Igiugig shared photos of an incomplete boat it believed to be under construction at his company.
As soon as the village paid $96,250 through the grant, Dismer immediately pulled out $70,000 to buy a construction facility and transferred the property to a 21-year-old in an effort to keep the real estate out of the Internal Revenue Service’s reach, authorities said.
According to the plea agreement, Dismer also engaged in “pyramiding,” the illegal practice of ending the operation of a business that owes taxes and creating a new business entity. He admitted to evading about $768,000 in taxes.
Last Friday, a federal judge sentenced Dismer to five years in prison and ordered him to pay his victims $4.3 million in restitution.
“Dismer defrauded not only the federal government, but also individuals and communities to support his personal and lavish lifestyle,” FBI Special Agent in Charge Charles Dayoub of the Kansas City division said in a statement. “His betrayal of trust was twofold: not only did he betray his employees, he betrayed the confidence and trust of his clients.”