Owner of Sebring biz charged with grand theft
SEBRING - The owner of Highland County’s Start-up Business of the Year in 2011 was arrested this week on felony theft charges, but he insists that he has done nothing wrong. Philip John Mead, 43, was arrested earlier this week and charged with scheme to defraud involving more than $50,000, two counts of grand theft involving more than $10,000, and two counts of grand theft involving more than $5,000. A document filed by the State Attorney’s Office said the crimes are alleged to have occurred between April 16, 2009, and Jan. 22, 2012. Assistant State Attorney Christine Fletcher said charges involve allegations that Mead’s business, Mead Floats, which manufactures floats for seaplanes, received money from four customers, but did not provide them with floats or a refund. Fletcher said Mead met some of his customers at fly-in events in Lakeland.But Mead said the issues involve dissatisfaction of some customers regarding the time it takes to manufacture the floats rather than theft. “We’re in the business of building floats,” he said. “We’re not in the business of scheming to defraud.” Mead said that for customers who want floats for their planes, he requires deposits, but has never guaranteed when the floats will be completed. That’s because there’s a lot of special materials, labor and time involved in manufacturing the floats, he said. Another factor, he said, was that the economic downturn forced him to scale back the facility. Mead said that three or four customers wanted to cancel their orders because of the time involved, but he already incurred significant costs involving labor and materials, he said. He said his business was faced with the customers wanting full refunds of the deposits, yet having spent considerable money on the product. Nevertheless, Mead said, Mead Floats will resolve the situation. He said he’s hoping the court situation can be resolved soon. “We intend to stay in the float business a long time, so we need to resolve this and get it behind us,” Mead said. Darin Hart, one the customers who cancelled his order and is listed as a victim in the charges filed by the State Attorney’s Office, said in 2009 he believes he was Mead’s first customer and he placed a deposit of several thousands of dollars for floats, but has not received his money back or the floats. Mead Floats promised him the floats by several dates that came and passed, he said. But Mead said that Hart was aware the company couldn’t immediately manufacture floats that met the weight requirements of Hart’s planes. By the time the company could do that, Hart had canceled his order, Mead said. Hart said he believes Mead is a “con artist” who needs to be locked away. Mead disagrees and says he is considering refunding Hart’s deposit, adding that he doesn’t want his floats on Hart’s planes. Mead said that currently his business, which typically manufactures six sets of floats per year, is booked for the next 18 months, which indicates he has a lot of satisfied customers. He said the floats are used for recreational purposes. The company is located at Sebring Regional Airport. The Highlands County Economic Development Commission honored Mead during the Business Development Day Breakfast in May 2011. Mead said then he was in the marine composites industry for 24 years and was a professional boat builder. He said then he was raised and educated in New Zealand and was involved with Team New Zealand’s America’s Cup 1999 winner.