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Tampa’s Thee Dollhouse sued for allowing drunk dancer drive to death

A Tampa strip club dancer, plied with free drinks before leaving work, died last year after her car hit a tree.

Now her estate is suing both the club and its valet service for letting her drive to her death.

Cindy Marleny Montes was a 23-year-old dancer at Thee Dollhouse strip club at 1010 N. Westshore Blvd. In Tampa.

On Jan. 16, 2016, Montes left work, taking her keys from Shamrock Valet, and drove off.

Soon after, Montes — a 2011 graduate of Madera South High School in California and attending Hillsborough Community College pursuing a liberal arts degree — crashed into a tree.

Ejected from the vehicle, Montes died four days later from her injuries.

A lawsuit filed April 27 in Hillsborough County Circuit Court by Erik Montes, a relative bringing action for Montes’ estate – argues that Cindy was very drunk at the time of the crash after customers and/or staff of Thee Dollhouse gave her several free drinks beforehand. The suit alleges it was a customary practice at the strip club.

At the time of her crash, Montes’s blood alcohol level was purportedly at least 0.23 percent – nearly three times Florida’s legal limit.

Shamrock Valet (which provides valet services to club employees) and O.C. Food & Beverage (which allegedly owns and/or manages Thee Dollhouse) are named as co-defendants responsible for Cindy’s death. They are also accused of “negligently failing to educate, train, and/or supervise employees as to how to handle intoxicated persons.”

Nevertheless, the suit is not entirely clear who, in fact, owns Thee Dollhouse.

Erik Montes’ complaint suggests that owners of the strip club are co-defendant O.C. Food & Beverage – managed by St. Petersburg millionaire William Hunter Bullard, Dunedin resident Harold R.E. Johnson, and Orlando resident Randy Beasley.

However, earlier legal action has named JBM Management of Tampa as the owner. JBM’s president is also William Hunter Bullard.

William Hart is president of Shamrock Valet.

Dueling lawsuits embroil Tampa power broker Don Phillips, wife in fierce divorce battle

Tampa power broker Don Phillips

An epic divorce battle years in the making has embroiled Tampa Republican heavyweight Don E. Phillips.

Despite claims of a “devoted family,” Phillips and his wife Erin spent the past few years firing off waves of competing lawsuits, complete with dramatic accusations of computer hacking, identity theft, domestic violence, stalking and serial infidelity among others.

A North Carolina native, Phillips, 51, moved to Hillsborough County in 2003 and is the man behind Tampa-based Phillips Development & Realty (PDR), an influential firm building multifamily rental housing throughout the Southeast.

Phillips’ personal website describes him as the “son of a real estate developer who died in an airplane crash at the age of 37,” and that Don “was inspired by love and admiration for his father, as well as his father’s successes in the business, to enter the same career.”

PDR’s local projects include Tampa’s Casa Bella on Westshore, Phillips International Drive, and Tuscano at Suncoast Crossing In Lutz.

As his political stock began to rise, Phillips deftly played both sides of the aisle, switching parties briefly in 2006 to vote for Democrat Al Fox for Congress. His first donation in the Tampa area was 2004, for the County Commission campaign of Bob Buckhorn, a Democrat who would later become Tampa Mayor.

Buckhorn had once called Phillips a “breath of fresh air.”

But by 2008, according to a profile by the Tampa Bay Times, Phillips had “raised some expectations that he might be the next Republican power player in Hillsborough County.”

“He’s certainly stepped up to the plate,” said Jim Greer, then-chair of the Republican Party of Florida. “Don is someone who has been a supporter of the Republican Party not only financially, but from a grassroots perspective.”

At that time, Phillips’ office on the corner of Bayshore Boulevard and Platt Street also housed the John McCain for President campaign headquarters, as well as a satellite office of the Florida Republican Party.

Phillips “donated at least $70,000 to the state Republican Party and GOP candidates,” the Times wrote in 2008, resulting in then-Gov. Charlie Crist appointing him to the Tampa-Hillsborough Expressway Authority.

In 2011, Phillips hosted a fundraiser for Pasco Republican Will Weatherford, then a House Speaker Designate. Phillips had also served on the board of Enterprise Florida.

A 2013 article quoted him talking about Tampa socialite Jill Kelley, who had a controversial relationship with Gen. David Petraeus.

Erin and Donald Phillips (Photo courtesy donaldphillips.com)

In 2005, Phillips met Erin Rachelle Willmore, now 37. Born in California, Willmore’s first marriage was to Cory Allen St. Clair of Rocky Point, North Carolina.

Records show that in 2008, Willmore gave $5,000 to the Heartland Values PAC, controlled by Phillips’ hunting buddy, South Dakota Republican Sen. John Thune. The same year, Phillips also donated money to Heartland.

At that time, Phillips and Willmore were engaged and living together in south Tampa with the couple’s two-week-old baby and two children from Willmore’s previous relationship. Records show Phillips also had another child from an earlier relationship.

The couple married March 2009 at the St. Pete Beach home of prominent family law attorney Joseph Melendi. About two months later they bought home at 5905 Beacon Shores Drive costing about $2.1 million. Erin Phillips gave birth in 2011 to their second child, a boy.

Phillips’ personal website promotes him as a “devoted husband” with a “beloved family … of his wife Erin and their five children,” Brendan Allen (14), Collin Allan (13), Kodee Renee (8), Cole Edmund (6) and Cooper.

By 2015, however, the Phillips marriage began to show signs of serious strain.

Trouble in the Phillips household began in April 2012, when Don Phillips pleaded “no contest” to leaving a child unattended in a vehicle; he was also arrested for DUI July 2013. At that point, Don was serving on the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corporation and applied for a seat on the Hillsborough County Aviation Board.

On New Year’s Eve 2014, Erin Phillips surrendered her stake in the couple’s marital home, leaving Don as the sole owner.

In the first of two divorce proceedings, filed Jan. 9, 2015, Erin claimed Don promised to pay Erin $300,000 plus interest in early 2020 in exchange for her relinquishing her interest in the home.

Documents show the couple entered a settlement agreement, but Erin countersued Don, asking the court to set aside the settlement. Erin Phillips argued that she signed the agreement “under duress, coercion, overreaching by Husband,” a result of “fraud” and “deceit.” Erin added that the agreement was “manifestly unfair” since she was unaware of the extent Don’s assets, income or liabilities.

In addition, Erin claimed Don held tight control of finances; her job was to be a full-time homemaker, caregiver and to go with her husband to “events and business functions.”

Erin said it was indeed her who had asked for the divorce Dec. 12, 2014. After that, she said Don began to “stalk and harass” her. She also alleges that as Don tried to get her to reconcile, he warned of “consequences” if she continues with the divorce — threatening both suicide and “the life of a third-party” with whom Erin turned to for emotional support.

She also called Don a “serial philanderer,” having numerous affairs during their marriage and spending money on “paramours,” which included renting apartments for them and “lavishing them with expensive gifts.”

By March 2015, the Phillips agreed to postpone the divorce for two months; the court dismissed the case June 30, 2016, for lack of prosecution.

Nevertheless, by August 2016, the Phillips were back in divorce court, with Don filing this time in a case that is now ongoing. While Don requested the filings be placed under seal, court dockets show the case proceeding in a way similar to the first attempt — Erin again countersuing and asking the court to set aside the marital settlement agreement.

In a domestic violence injunction petition filed Jan. 26, 2017, Erin Phillips accused Don of hacking into her email, spying on her communications, including those with her attorneys; stealing her identity to get text messages and call histories from AT&T; putting a tracking device on her car, and installing tracking software on her computer.

The petition also alleges Don had “over 100 fire armes [sic]” saying he had made her feel she as if she was “in imminent danger of becoming a victim of domestic violence.”

A recent lawsuit, filed April 18 in Hillsborough County court, by PDF Assets of Florida — a company controlled by Don Phillips — accused Erin Phillips of gaining unauthorized access to corporate emails and digital records. The “presumed intent was to unlawfully gain leverage in the divorce proceedings to which she is a party, and to conduct unlawful clandestine unilateral discovery.”

The lawsuit seeks an injunction, as well as the return of all “misappropriated” information, and attorney’s fees.

Joint venture partner accuses Tampa’s DeBartolo Development of fraud, withdrawing from deal

A former joint business partner is suing DeBartolo Development of fraud, claiming the company exaggerated its record and dropped out of a real estate investment fund for apartment complexes throughout Florida and the Southeast U.S.

Tampa-based DeBartolo is a real-estate company headquartered at 4401 W. Kennedy Blvd. Edward Kobel serves as president and chief operating officer. The CEO of its parent company is Edward “Eddie” DeBartolo Jr., one of Tampa Bay’s richest residents and a former owner of the San Francisco 49ers.

In 2014, DeBartolo Development partnered with Mainstreet Capital to help raise tens of millions of dollars in capital for developing real estate, particularly large apartment complexes in the Southeastern United States.

Brothers Todd and Craig Marshall are founders of Mainstreet Capital, headquartered in Stuart.

In a suit filed in Hillsborough County Circuit Court April 14, Mainstreet alleges DeBartolo told them that a Canadian pension fund already had agreed to invest $40-million, and DeBartolo’s reputation in the real-estate world would boost fundraising.

Mainstreet agreed, and formed a joint venture — dubbed DeBartolo-Mainstreet. According to its website, managing partners are Kobel, David Perlstein (of Magno Aere LLC), and both Todd and Craig Marshall.

However, Mainstreet is saying the deal soon soured.

The lawsuit accuses DeBartolo of exaggerating its record of successful fundraising and development, and “thwarted the venture” by refusing to give information to large institutional investors.

In addition, DeBartolo representatives either skipped or canceled key meetings, and ultimately pulled the group — and the well-hyped “DeBartolo” name — out of the joint venture.

Mainstreet is asking the court to award damages for fraud, negligent misrepresentation, tortious interference with a business relationship, as well as breach of fiduciary duty.

After federal judge dismisses wrongful-death suit against Tampa police, widow sues city again

Last month, a federal court dismissed the wrongful-death lawsuit against the Tampa Police Department after a diabetic man died in 2014 during a police stop.

The man’s widow is now suing the city of Tampa and in Hillsborough County Circuit Court.

On April 16, 2014, Tampa police stopped Arthur “Art” Green Jr., a 63-year-old community activist, after responding to a call about a wrong-way driver. Officers pulled over Green, who was visibly disoriented and forcibly removed him from the vehicle when he refused to leave.

Restrained on the ground, long drawn out process sure stopped breathing within a couple of minutes. CPR attempts failed to revive him, and Green died at St. Joseph’s Hospital within the hour.

Green’s widow, 70-year-old Lena L. Young — also known as Lena Leanora Young and Lena Young Green — filed a federal wrongful-death suit, accusing the TPD, Officer Andrew Portman and others involved of violating Green’s constitutional rights by negligently not providing him with immediate medical care during a hypoglycemic incident.

Young also serves as executive vice president of LIFT Health, a Tampa-based nonprofit to develop “true solutions for health issues and lifestyle inadequacies for our youth and their families.”

In 2016, the City of Tampa filed a motion to dismiss Young’s suit; U.S. District Judge Mary S. Scriven dismissed all eight counts March 6, 2017, but gave Young the option to pursue two of the counts against the Tampa in a local court.

Scriven ruled that even though Portman was aware that Green might be suffering from a medical issue at the time, he lacked the medical ability to know the nature of the issue, its seriousness, or whether Green needed immediate medical attention.

Even if the officers’ actions amounted to “gross negligence,” Scriven said they did not show “deliberate indifference.” Also, although methods used to restrain Green might have contributed to his death, police did not use “excessive force.”

Scriven concluded that even with 29-million diabetics in the U.S., the TPD is under no obligation to train officers to recognize signs of hypoglycemia.

As a result, Lena Young filed a two-count wrongful death lawsuit against the City of Tampa April 7, 2017. The suit, in Hillsborough County Circuit Court, attempts to pursue two of the eight claims made in the federal lawsuit.

After Art Green’s death, his family set up the Arthur Green Jr. Memorial Foundation, which has supported an effort to change the name of Tampa’s Robles Park Center to the Arthur Green Jr. Community Center. The nonprofit also sponsored a health fair with LIFT Health, as well as a “community conversations series” titled “Injustice & Inequality in Tampa’s African-American Community in the Buckhorn Era.”

Tampa subdivision accuses former leadership of lying, falsifying records over recall vote

A Tampa subdivision is accusing its former leadership of lying and falsifying evidence to overturn a recall vote and stay in power, after an expensive arbitration process.

Camden Woods is a subdivision in southeast Tampa with 115 voting homeowners. Records suggest it is managed by Avid Management of Tampa.

Camden Woods’ current Homeowner’s Association president is 58-year-old Julie Patricia McDaniel.

Former HOA staff includes Terry Jolly Henry, 44, who previously served as president and is also a licensed real estate agent; John Clay Jenkins, 65, was vice president. Lanette Nicole Stevens, 43, was former secretary.

In 2016, homeowners at the Camden Woods subdivision narrowly approved a petition to recall the subdivision’s three-member board — led by then-president Henry.

A few days later, the board asked the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation to intercede, saying 10 of the homeowners had rescinded their votes to recall.

Arbitrator Terri Leigh Jones later ruled against Henry, Jenkins and Stevens, but not before the Homeowner’s Association spent over $18,000 on legal fees. Jones upheld the recall vote after concluding that the three had lied about discussing each of the 10 allegedly rescinded votes during a public meeting Sept. 6, 2016.

In a 104-page filing in Hillsborough County Circuit Court dated April 5, the HOA is claiming breach of fiduciary duty, accusing the ousted board members of fabricating evidence of rescinded votes to attempt to stay in power.

According to the complaint: “Defendants … fabricated events, fabricated motions, fabricated votes, fabricated revocations, fabricated signatures, and drafted four pages of falsified minutes, creating sham motions that did not occur.”

In addition, the three are accused of “intentionally and knowingly misled the Association’s attorney, provided the Association’s attorney with the fabricated evidence and fictitious minutes of the meeting, and through a series of motions and pleadings continue to improperly waste Association funds on events and evidence defendants knew were completely falsified.”

Current President McDaniel is the person allegedly leading the effort to oust the three former leaders.

Interestingly, Henry’s Facebook page has the introduction: “No Weapons formed against me shall prosper!”


Bubba the Love Sponge legal update: IRS files tax lien, ex-girlfriend drops injunction

Bubba the Love Sponge can now add a federal tax lien to his recent legal troubles.

But as one issue pops up, another appears to have worked itself out for the embattled Tampa Bay shock jock.

Formerly known as Todd Alan Clem, Bubba the Love Sponge Clem is the owner of the Bubba Radio Network Inc., headquartered at 5021 W. Nassau St. in Tampa.

Over the years, the infamous radio host, who now lives in South St. Petersburg, has either directly or indirectly been involved in multiple legal cases, both in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties.

In the latest of his legal difficulties, the Internal Revenue Service filed a tax lien last month against the Bubba Radio Network, saying the company owes $23,295 in unpaid ‘941’ taxes for the tax period that ended Sept. 30, 2016.

This latest problem comes on top of former girlfriend Nicole Maria “Nikki” L’Ange seeking an injunction February against Bubba for domestic violence. The same week, Bank of America sued him over a defaulted $75,000 line of credit.

In December, Beasley Media Group, part of the Beasley Broadcast Group, removed Bubba’s show from WBRN-FM 98.7 in the Tampa area, leaving his show on a single Beasley station: WRXK-FM 98-Rock in Fort Myers.

Tampa’s WWBA-AM 820 later picked up the show.

But at least one of the actions seemed to have been settled. On March 13, L’Ange voluntarily dismissed her petition for a restraining order against Clem. She did not list a reason.

As for Bank of America’s $75,000 lawsuit, neither Clem nor the Bubba Radio Network has responded as of mid-April.


St. Vincent de Paul accused of racial discrimination after firing African-American employee

Michael Raposa of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul South Pinellas

A well-known Tampa Bay-area charity and thrift store operator is facing accusations of racial discrimination after firing an African-American veteran program officer.

The Society of St. Vincent de Paul is a Catholic charity founded in France in the 1830s.

St. Vincent’s South Pinellas chapter operates a thrift store at 384 15th St. N, S in St. Petersburg, which is used for support services in Tampa for veteran families. Michael Raposa serves as St. Vincent’s executive director. Edi Erb, a former executive director of the Tampa Hillsborough Homeless Initiative, serves as director of supportive services for veteran families.

St. Vincent de Paul hired Bryan Sullivan in 2015 as a program officer for supportive services in 3010 N. Boulevard in Tampa to help homeless veterans. Erb was his supervisor.

Less than three months later, executive director Raposa fired Sullivan.

According to a suit filed April 3 in Pinellas County Circuit Court, Sullivan cites two reasons for his dismissal: he is an African-American at a charity Sullivan says prefers a white staff, and, as a U.S. Army combat veteran, was considered “too military.”

The termination came on the same day Sullivan told Raposa and others he had filed a discrimination claim with the federal government.

Court records suggest Sullivan could be 47-year-old Valrico resident Bryan Oneil Sullivan, who had been arrested in 2010 for sexual battery, for violating probation in 2011, and faced a complaint in 2005 for dating violence by Amanda Voigt. The dating violence petition was denied.

Also named in the suit is Modern Business, a St. Petersburg firm providing outsourced human resources. Sullivan’s complaint lists the company and St. Vincent de Paul as co-employers.

Notably, Sullivan filed his discrimination complaint not with the EEOC but with the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, which provides St. Vincent de Paul federal funds to assistant veterans.

In the past, St. Vincent de Paul has faced other legal actions, including a racial discrimination suit. A chef claimed in 2014 he was fired for being African-American, as well as a store manager suing for overtime, and a cashier accused a supervisor of sexual harassment.


Pinellas nurses may have allowed spoiled vaccines to go to low-income kids

Board-certified pediatrician Stephen George Nelson

Two nurses at a Pinellas County pediatric clinic serving low-income children are accused of allowing distribution of damaged vaccines. A court filing suggests they may have also deceived state regulators of the spoiled medication.

Board-certified pediatrician Stephen George Nelson founded a pediatric medical practice in 1981. As of April 2017, Dr. Nelson, 67, has five pediatricians working for his practice with three locations in St. Petersburg and Seminole.

Pinellas Park resident Shannon Rochelle Best, 37, is a licensed practical nurse who works (or had worked) for Nelson. She now is at Peninsula Pediatrics. Mary Muhlstadt Bottieri, 53, is a licensed practical nurse from St. Petersburg who also employed by Nelson at one time. Now, she serves as a nurse manager at Peninsula Pediatrics.

Nelson issued free vaccines to low-income child patients through the federal Vaccines for Children (VFC) program.

Nurses Bottieri and Best were instructed to collect daily temperature data from the vaccines’ storage units, and notify a state monitoring agency if temperatures “exceeded or fell below the accepted temperature variation range,” and mark all damaged dosages ‘Do Not Use.’

According to an April 11 complaint filed in Pinellas County Circuit Court, Nelson claims in 2016 the two nurses intentionally did not alert state regulators of the VFC program of unacceptable temperature variations, as well as failing to mark the spoiled dosages “Do Not Use.”

Court records do not show the number, if any, of VFC patients who actually received the damaged vaccines, whether they suffered any adverse effects, and if (or when) patients’ parents were informed of the situation. Nelson is seeking damages for alleged wrongdoing.

Although the lawsuit does not indicate how the plaintiff suffered as a result of the allegedly wrongful actions, possible consequences include removal from the VFC program, lawsuits from VFC patients, federal fines and other complications.


Sam Rashid once again getting grief over social media, sues ex-employee for Facebook post

Sam Rashid

Tampa’s Sam Rashid is once again facing grief over social media. This time, a Facebook post by a former employee is causing trouble for the Republican firebrand.

Samad Sultan Rashid, better known locally as Sam Rashid, is a 55-year-old businessperson, conservative activist and former member of the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority.

A native of Pakistan who converted to Catholicism from Islam, Rashid now serves as CEO and co-owner of Brandon-based Divine Designs Salon & Spa, as well as president of Plant City-based Holtec, which sells commercial-grade saws. He is married to Geri Rashid.

Rashid is suing Jacqueline Lilley, 21, a former employee of Divine Designs.

In a series of Facebook posts last month, Lilley criticized Divine Designs, her old employer, calling the owners “thieves,” and urging current staff to “GET OUT NOW.” She said the company’s owner sent a “damn email” warning staff to stop social-media contact with employees who had left the salon on “bad terms.”

Jacqueline Lilley, former employee of Divine Designs Salon

The now-deleted post received at least 39 comments and 14 reactions.

Rashid, as the owner of the salon, is complaining that Lilley’s post falsely “accused [him] of committing a crime.” In an April 11 filing in Hillsborough County Circuit Court, Rashid is seeking damages for defamation.

Rashid is far from a stranger to incendiary Facebook posts.

In June 2014, Gov. Rick Scott appointed Rashid, a high-profile GOP supporter, to the Hillsborough County Aviation Board. In September 2015, Rashid, an avid anti-tax activist, attacked Tampa businessperson Beth Leytham for her involvement in the “Go Hillsborough” transportation initiative, funded by the county government. Hillsborough had been considering increasing sales taxes to build new roads, improve bridges and expand mass transit.

In a Facebook post from Sept. 2, 2015, Rashid called Leytham a “taxpayer-subsidized slut,” suggesting she had “intimately close relationships” with two county and one city officials.

After a wave of outrage and mounting pressure on Scott to remove him, Rashid voluntarily resigned Oct. 9, 2015. In his resignation letter, he did not apologize for making the slur.

“Really, you guys will simply not let the past rest,” Rashid later told the Tampa Bay Times. “Every time there’s an article or statement or my name comes up, it’s always going to refer back to this ridiculous situation.”

Rashid added that he intended “slut” to be a political slur — not a sexual one.

Donald Trump’s election helped put sale of Clearwater flight school up in the air

Delays in approval from the Department of Homeland Security after the election of Donald Trump has stymied the sale of a Clearwater flight school when the prospective new owner backed out of the deal and now faces breach of contract.

Feng Jian Xin, a California resident, agreed to buy Clearwater Aviation Academy in 2016, along with its seven planes for $275,000.

Part of the deal hinged on Academy, at 4303-11 General Howard Dr., receiving certification from Homeland Security’s Student and Exchange Visitor Program, which oversees “nonimmigrants whose primary reason for coming to the United States is to be students.”

After the 9/11 terror attacks, the U.S. has put increased scrutiny, screening and tracking foreign students at flight schools, particularly after it was discovered some of the hijackers had attended flight schools in the U.S.

In March 2017, Feng told plaintiffs Clearwater Aviation and Global Aircraft Acquisitions LLC he did not plan to close the deal, possibly because Homeland Security had not yet ruled on Clearwater Aviation’s application.

According to a breach-of-contract lawsuit filed April 3 in Pinellas County Circuit Court, the flight school says Feng had no reason to abandon the deal because Clearwater was actively working to obtain the SEVIS authority through a third party.

Court documents show Clearwater Aviation had told Feng Jian Xin that “immigration upheaval” in Washington was the reason for delays in approval from Homeland Security,

“The election of President Trump has created a chaotic and unpredictable environment within DHS and upheaval regarding all immigration-related issues … Clearwater Aviation is involved in discussions with another holder of SEVIS authority that may be willing to allow that authority to be used for Clearwater Aviation Academy.”

On March 27, 2017, Steven Fox, representing Clearwater Aviation, wrote: “This transaction is not like buying a new car. You can’t just walk into the dealership, pick the model and options, pay the price and drive away. This is a living, breathing business that changes and grows from day to day. You don’t have the staff you need or even a place to do business. Going back to the new car analogy, you can’t drive and don’t have a driver.”

“I now have SEVIS authority available,” Fox added. “I think SEVIS is a non-issue.”

According to public records, Feng paid $1.75-million in 2015 for a 10-acre, 8,748-square-foot home in San Diego County. Records also show Tampa attorney Xuesong Alex Yu represented Feng in negotiations with Clearwater Aviation.

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