How nearly two dozen golf carts started vanishing around Pinellas County (2024)

The golf carts started vanishing in early January, one after another.

Among the first to go was a black cart with a deep-tinted windshield, alligator leather seat cushions and a polished wood steering wheel. It was furnished with a lift kit, which meant the driver and up to three passengers towered above other carts.

“It was custom,” said its owner, Jennifer Houston of Palm Harbor. “That makes it even harder.”

Then a cart disappeared from a boat marina. Another from a waterfront condo. Over the following weeks, golf carts went missing from places as disparate as a Clearwater mobile home park, a South Pasadena bowling alley and the Don CeSar resort in St. Pete Beach.

The carts were stolen under cover of night and in broad daylight. From parking lots of bustling businesses to backyards in quiet neighborhoods.

The pattern that was emerging suggested one thing: a serial golf cart thief.

In the end, authorities followed the investigative trail of nearly two dozen cart thefts across Pinellas County to one man.

And as the man would later tell detectives, his life took a dark turn after a devastating drug addiction left him alone and penniless.

It was only then that he stumbled into the illicit and lucrative world of stolen golf carts.

A rented truck and stolen trailer

After babysitting her grandkids in Sarasota and making the late-night drive home, Laura Stover walked past the garage and up the stairs to her waterfront condo in Isla Del Sol.

“When I got up in the morning, I went into the kitchen and looked out the window and the golf cart was gone,” the lifelong St. Petersburg resident said. “My husband didn’t believe it.”

It had been a retirement gift and her preferred method for hauling bait, rods and tackle to fish along local beaches. Stover had only owned the cart for two months before it disappeared.

Luckily, the golf cart — valued at about $12,500 — was insured. She’s already ordered a replacement: It’s bright red and easier to spot if carried off by thieves.

“I just felt like that ruined my Caribbean blue one,” she said.

How nearly two dozen golf carts started vanishing around Pinellas County (1)

As it was spirited away, Stover’s golf cart provided an important clue thanks to the Florida SunPass transponder attached to it.

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On the morning that Stover reported the theft, Feb. 18, the cart pinged her with a SunPass alert. It had — just before 9:30 am — passed through a Skyway Bridge toll booth.

“That’s kind of what cracked the case,” she said.

Toll booth photos showed her cart strapped to a trailer towed by a rental truck. Using the unique ID number on the truck, detectives learned it had been rented from a nearby Home Depot on Jan. 4, just days before the first carts were reported stolen.

The trailer, detectives later learned, had been stolen in the middle of the afternoon off busy Bay Boulevard on the Treasure Island end of John’s Pass.

Once they learned the name of the man who had rented the truck, detectives found their suspect was already in jail. A warrant for his arrest had been served two days after Stover’s golf cart was reported stolen.

The wanted man had missed a court date in a case of another golf cart that was stolen in June.

He had been charged then with two counts of theft of a motor vehicle and two counts of burglary. A month later, he posted $22,000 bail and was released.

After he missed a court date and was on the lam, authorities finally caught up with him on Jan. 20. He was arrested in the rental truck at a Pinellas Park dentist office. Deputies found crack and a pipe inside the vehicle.

The man gave them a fake name: Jun Crabtree. But he told detectives he “had to try,” and quickly corrected himself, according to an arrest report.

His real name, detectives learned, was Joseph Damico.

An admission of guilt

Damico, 50, appeared on a small screen at the Pinellas County Jail visitation center wearing an orange jumpsuit. He picked up the landline phone receiver and detailed the monthslong drug binge that landed him there.

“I lost everything. And I’m not that person,” he told the Tampa Bay Times, stifling sobs. “I don’t know how to explain how anything happened. I affected a lot of people.”

Over the following half hour, Damico politely declined to answer questions about his case. He also declined to say anything about where the golf carts ended up and if his buyer knew they were stolen.

Just weeks earlier, his honesty had landed him deeper in trouble, he said. In a jail interview with a detective, the Holiday man admitted to stealing 22 golf carts in Pinellas County that he traded in Manatee County for money and drugs.

Damico said deputies had promised they would divert him to a substance abuse clinic if he confessed.

“They told me they were going to help me,” he said.

Instead, the agency tacked on more charges.

Damico now faces 28 of them, including multiple counts of grand theft of a motor vehicle, dealing in stolen property and drug possession.

Detectives with the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office declined to comment on the case, citing an active investigation.

Damico’s rap sheet is filled with more than 20 felonies.

In 1998, he pleaded guilty to attacking a law enforcement officer and two counts of armed escape. Damico was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

“I went to prison for a long time,” he said. “I got out and I had a plan — a really strong plan — that I just was not going to be this kind of person, that me being in jail was something that was never going to happen again.”

After his release in 2018, Damico became a certified diver and started an underwater construction and welding business. He bought a house in Holiday with his fiancee and her two children.

“That’s me,” Damico said. “Not this. This is not me. But it doesn’t matter now.”

He started using drugs early last summer. He said they helped him stay awake while working more than 90 hours each week. He realized crack cocaine could keep him up while he tinkered on his dive tools in the garage all night.

He said he’d snorted cocaine once in his youth but that nothing prepared him for the intensity of crack. His eyes widened as he recounted that first hit.

“Boy, I’ll tell you what, that kept me awake,” Damico said.

Some weeks, he didn’t sleep for three days straight.

Damico’s two-car garage had once been packed with equipment accumulated over his years working as a commercial diver. It’s now empty after he pawned all his tools for drugs.

“It was a fast spiral,” he said.

How nearly two dozen golf carts started vanishing around Pinellas County (3)

He appeared most remorseful about how his drug abuse affected his fiancee.

“I took her to Kay’s when we got engaged, and I made her cry because I bought her this really beautiful diamond ring — $4,000,” he said, sobbing and holding his head in his hands. “I pawned it, and I smoked it.”

Because of his extensive record, Damico said he may face up to 30 years in prison if he’s found guilty. Under Florida’s “points system,” prior felony convictions can play into sentencing of a new felony, earning him mandatory prison time.

Damico, who has pleaded not guilty, will face his next pre-trial hearing on April 29.

“I lost my soon-to-be wife, my business,” he said. “Everything went down the tubes. I lost it all.”

Damico is asking for a third chance at life, which may be a longshot. If he were to get out, he said he would get clean and work to repay victims. Records show he has already paid $1,000 in restitution.

“I am a hard worker. I got a strong work ethic. I take pride in my work. I care about people,” Damico said. “None of that is reflected in what I’ve been charged with, where I find myself now.

“It’s the contradictions that make things so hard,” he said.

Get help around Tampa Bay

If you or someone you know is struggling with a substance use disorder, call Operation PAR’s 24/7 phone line at 888-727-6398 to get connected with services in Pinellas, Pasco, Hernando, Manatee, Charlotte and Lee counties, or visit

Hillsborough County residents can contact the Hillsborough Recovery Coalition at 813-740-4811 ext. 289, or email

How nearly two dozen golf carts started vanishing around Pinellas County (2024)
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