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Woman accused of stealing boat countersues ex for allegedly swiping $50K

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A woman accused of stealing a boat from her sailor ex-boyfriend has countersued him, claiming he “carefully” orchestrated their break-up so he could swindle her out of tens of thousands of dollars, court papers allege.

Michael Fortinberry sued ex Jessica Gates in August claiming after they split up, she absconded with a Beneteau Oceanis 35 boat that the pair bought together in December 2019 for $155,500 to a start sailboat tour company, Sailing Islander.

But Gates claimed in court papers last month that Fortinberry abruptly called it quits — after roughly three years together — on Jan. 7, 2021 and moved out of her apartment that day never to be seen again. And Fortinberry allegedly stole from Gates and left her with debts amounting to over $52,000, according to her counterclaims filed in the Manhattan Supreme Court.

Fortinberry — who allegedly hasn’t had a home in his own name for over a decade — has a pattern of moving from woman to woman and taking money from them only to later sue them, the counterclaims allege.

“It is now apparent that [Fortinberry] carefully planned to end his relationship with Ms. Gates prior to January 7, 2021 and orchestrated his departure to obtain as many benefits from Ms. Gates and the LLC as he could prior to ending his relationship with Ms. Gates,” the filing, by Gates’ lawyer Jeffrey Kofsky, alleges.

Gates is now countersuing Fortinberry  for allegedly stealing $50,000 during the breakup.
Gates is now countersuing Fortinberry for allegedly stealing $50,000 during the breakup.
Courtesy of Sailing Islander NYC

“Ms. Gates has been neither the first, nor the last, woman that [Fortinberry] has used for financial support and the attempted accumulation of assets, nor is Ms. Gates the only former paramour that [Fortinberry] has engaged in litigation against seeking a money judgment,” the court papers claim.

Gates claims that Fortinberry charged nearly $20,000 in boating, fishing and diving equipment to her company card and then used them for the new company he started to compete with hers, called Big Apple Charters, the court documents allege.

Fortinberry also took roughly $15,000 in boating equipment from her storage locker in Pennsylvania and kept a $17,000 refund meant for the company after an electric engine was returned, the filing claims.

And Fortinberry allegedly left her with a $1,000 medical bill and nearly left her with another $4,000 medical bill that Gates caught in time, the counterclaims state.

Gates accused Fortinberry of using her company credit card to buy supplies that he used for his new rival company Big Apple Charters.
Gates accused Fortinberry of using her company credit card to buy supplies that he used for his new rival company Big Apple Charters.
Courtesy of Sailing Islander NYC

Fortinberry “viewed Ms. Gates and the LLC as sources of income and assets to support his lifestyle,” the court papers allege.

Gates claims that Fortinberry has personal debts including a $200,000 tax bill, $37,000 in American Express charges and in the past he’s fallen behind on child support for kids “of one of his prior marriages,” according to the counterclaims.

Gates — and her company Nicely Making Way LLC — are seeking the $52,739 that Fortinberry alleged stole along with another $500,000 in punitive damages.

Lawyers on both sides did not immediately return requests for comment.

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