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Seminole man avoids jail time, must pay back $300K in boat scheme restitution

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SEMINOLE COUNTY, Fla. - Channel 9 was there Thursday at a sentencing hearing for a Seminole County boat seller who ripped off dozens of victims for thousands of dollars.

An Action 9 investigation first exposed the scheme in 2010. On Thursday, some of Ralph Smith's two dozen victims had some harsh words for him in court, where Smith learned he has to pay back more than $300,000 or face jail time.

Smith operated a consignment business out of Sanford where investigators said he stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from people who wanted to sell their boats.

He pleaded guilty to grand theft but will not face prison time after agreeing to pay his victims each and every penny they're owed.

Victims like Robert Jude said the nightmare he's been living is finally over. Jude is out $45,000 after contracting Smith to sell his boat.

He and a handful of other victims faced the accused conman in court.

"This man has devastated our lives and so many other people as well," one victim said in court.

Smith admitted that he lied to his victims but claimed his intentions were to eventually reimburse them.

"I truly am sorry," he said. "I don't make up excuses for the statements that I made to you."

But the apology and the sentence don't amount to much for Marie Beuttner, who had just lost her husband before agreeing to sell her boat to make ends meet.

"We want him and his families to suffer like our families suffered," she said.

"Ralph, I told you you'd have your day in court and you sure did, buddy," another victim yelled to Smith as he was leaving court.

Smith has to make monthly restitution payments for the next 10 years. If he misses a payment, he'll spend 15 years in prison.