Update: Two Duped Sailboat Theft Suspects Released

Two of the three people arrested in connection with the theft of a luxury sailboat from Sausalito were freed Wednesday after prosecutors concluded they hadn't known the vessel was stolen and thought they were going on a late-night party cruise.

Stolen Sailboat

Michael Short, Special To The Chronicle

Two of the three people arrested in connection with the theft of a luxury sailboat from Sausalito were freed Wednesday after prosecutors concluded they hadn't known the vessel was stolen and thought they were going on a late-night party cruise.

The only person to face charges in the case, Leslie Gardner, 63, of Gillette, Wyoming, duped the two into believing he owned the $2.8 million sailboat, prosecutors said. He appeared Wednesday in San Mateo County Superior Court on five felonies, including grand theft, possession of a stolen boat and vandalism.

Gardner told the judge he wanted a public defender to be assigned to him. His bail was set at more than $1 million.

Authorities say Gardner stole the 82-foot Darling from the Sausalito Yacht Harbor early Monday. The boat made it to Linda Mar Beach in Pacifica, where it ran aground shortly before dawn.

Also aboard were Dario Mira, 54, and Lisa Modawell, 56, both of Aptos (Santa Cruz County). However, neither knew that the boat was stolen and that Gardner didn't own the vessel, said Assistant District Attorney Al Serrato, the prosecutor in the case.

"It was an experience that I don't ever want to experience again," Mira said moments after being released from jail in Redwood City. "I just wanted to go on a vacation."

Modawell, freed a short time later, broke down in tears as soon as she left jail and said she had slept through much of the journey. "I had no idea anything was going on," she said.

Mira, a carpenter in Santa Cruz, said the first he knew the boat was stolen was when sheriff's deputies pulled him off the boat at gunpoint.

Mira and Modawell, who have dated for six years, met Gardner in Santa Cruz a few days before the theft, Serrato said outside court. Gardner told the couple that he had inherited the sailboat and asked them if they wanted to go on a cruise from Sausalito to Pillar Point Harbor in Half Moon Bay, the prosecutor said.

"He asked them if they'd like to go for a ride, if they would like to go for a sail," Serrato said. "They were having a party on the boat." He added, "What the endgame was here is just unknown to us at this point, what he (Gardner) hoped to accomplish."

Mira said the three had partied all day in the slip in Sausalito. Gardner hopped onboard the Darling, called someone - Mira didn't know who - and told Modawell to find a key hidden in the boat's canopy. They used the key to unlock the door, Mira said.

The three set sail after midnight. Gardner appeared to be a competent sailor, said Mira, adding that he never asked how he learned to sail.

Gardner wanted to anchor near Pillar Point Harbor, but the engine cut out and they started floating toward the shore, Mira said. Shortly before dawn, they ran aground on the Pacifica beach.

Read more at SFGate.