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Florida Bank insiders shafted minority investors in sale to IberiaBank, suit says

Minority investors in a Tampa Bay-area bank are accusing the board and other insiders of shafting them by manipulating share values before the bank’s sale to a Louisiana firm.

Tampa-based Florida Bank Group – the holding company operating under the name Florida Bank – received millions in federal Troubled Asset Relief Program TARP funds after losing $137-million between 2007 and 2013.

Florida Bank, originally the Bank of St. Petersburg, had been operating since 1985, and now has nine offices in Hillsborough, Pinellas and Manatee counties, as well as 13 offices throughout Florida. Robert Rothman was Florida Bank’s president and CEO, later replaced by Susan A. “Susie” Martinez.

TARP is the federal program set up by Congress in 2008 to stabilize banks holding large amounts of bad loans.

James Lewis Wilkes II and Timothy Charles McHugh are the namesakes of Tampa-based law firm Wilkes & McHugh, a Tampa-based law firm founded in 1985. The firm is most noted for suing nursing homes for negligence. Wilkes & McHugh also operate offices in Pennsylvania, Kentucky and Arizona.

When Florida Bank announced a private placement of additional stock in 2013, several investors – including Wilkes and McHugh – said they “could not conceive of chasing good money after bad.”

In late 2014, the Tampa Tribune reported that Florida Bank Group was to be acquired by Louisiana-based IberiaBank Corp. for $90-million. After the deal had been finalized in early 2015, Martinez was named IberiaBank’s Florida regional president. Rothman stayed on as board chair.

In a breach-of-fiduciary-duty suit filed Feb. 13 in Hillsborough County Circuit Court, the plaintiffs – Wilkes, McHugh, firm attorney Bennie Lazzara Jr. and his wife, Joyce – claim they didn’t know that Florida Bank’s 2013 private placement, another in 2011, as well as incentives and other stock programs were designed to maximize shareholdings of the bank’s directors and officers.

The suit also accuses the bank of diluting holdings, so that bank insiders could make a killing in the sale to IberiaBank. Plaintiffs claim that in 2013, the private placement alone increased the number of outstanding common shares from 21-million to 212-million, with most of them acquired by insiders.

The plaintiffs also allege nearly a dozen bank insiders including CEO Martinez and chair Rothman put their own needs ahead of those outside minority investors, which they say lost a considerable amount of money in the sale.

 

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Tampa developer sues Housing Authority over public records for ‘Encore’ renewal project

A Tampa developer is suing the Tampa Housing Authority, claiming officials are holding back documents related to a sprawling urban renewal in the neighborhood between downtown and Ybor City.

Pinnacle Holdings Group is accusing the THA of withholding key documents from public records for the “controversial handling” of Encore, the ambitious mixed-use project to replace Central Park Village. Frank Donald DeBose is president of Pinnacle Group, located at 4830 W. Kennedy Blvd., Suite 600 in Tampa.

Encore is the name of the plan that combines public housing, retail and commercial buildings with market-value condominiums.

In March 2016, the Tampa Tribune reported that Pinnacle Group was interested in purchasing to downtown parcels for $7.4-million as part of the Encore project.

Among Pinnacle’s tentative plans were a 20-story hotel and a 28-story residential tower. Other community features include an urban farm, museum, middle school, solar park and a renovated Perry Harvey Park, with an amphitheater and displays to honor Central Avenue’s history.

In November 2016, Pinnacle Group submitted a public records request to the THA, asking for “all documents pertaining or relating to the planning and development of Encore since November 2, 2010.”

The request specified documents and correspondence concerning developer Related Group – the private Miami-based developer also involved with the Encore project – as well as those involving Pinnacle Group itself.

Pinnacle claims documents received in December from the Authority were “insufficient,” and a subsequent request for “missing” items made January 10 provided not much more.

In a lawsuit filed February 17 in Hillsborough County Circuit Court, Pinnacle is suing under Chapter 119 of Florida Statutes (otherwise known as the “Public Records Act”). The company asks the court to set an immediate hearing and order the THA to “allow the inspection and copying of the requested public records.”

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Tampa pizzeria shot at by UberEats driver now faces eviction

A Tampa pizza shop shot at by an UberEats driver in January is now facing another attack — eviction over unpaid rent.

New Port Richey resident Amy Abdallah, 38, is the co-owner of Crusty’s Pizza. In late 2015, Amy and her husband Tony Abdallah agreed to lease a commercial property to operate Crusty’s  at 6607 N. Florida Ave. in Tampa.

Fredrika Lundgren is listed as the landlord. Records also suggest Tony Abdallah could be the same person as 39-year-old Ahmed El Sayed Abdallah.

The five-year lease was agreed to last through the end of 2020.

But according to a lawsuit filed Feb. 7, the Abdallah’s have not paid rent since June 2016, with an accumulated $15,868.

Lundgren seeks to evict Crusty’s and collect the unpaid rent.

An eviction notice is only the most recent problem facing Crusty’s.

On Sunday, Jan. 15, Tony Abdallah had sent away an UberEats driver who arrived at Crusty’s “under the influence.”

Furious, the driver allegedly shot at least five rounds at the building with a BB gun, which the Tampa Bay Times described as “narrowly missing the couple’s 18-year-old daughter doing prep work in the kitchen.”

“It was very traumatizing,” Abdallah told Fox 13 News. “My husband asked him, ‘Do you have a heating bag to carry food in?’ and he became very angry and started screaming profanities.”

The driver then drove away, returning later to shoot two more times into Crusty’s front window, also hitting an adjoining Korean restaurant.

“I’ve never met someone who got so angry and cussed so much, not being able to deliver pizza,” Abdallah said.

Uber told reporters they suspended the unidentified driver.

Although Fredrika Lundgren is the plaintiff in the past due rent complaint, the attached lease identifies her as the landlord. Per the Hillsborough County property appraiser, the listed property owner is Paul Stephenson, Lundgren’s husband.

Addresses for both Stephenson and Lundgren are in Albia, Iowa.

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City of Tampa, mobile home park owner face off over $13M in code violations

After years of legal wrangling, the city of Tampa is suing the owner of a condemned – and now mostly abandoned – mobile home park for millions of dollars in code violation fees.

Nearly six years ago, GreenPark Residences obtained a neglected 18-unit mobile home park on 5004 North 19th Street in Tampa.

Since then, officials with the City of Tampa have been at odds with Rosario C. “Ross” Scopelliti, 51, who owns Greenpark and has seemingly done whatever he can to legally avoid necessary repairs and maintenance on the trailers.

In 2012, according to the Tampa Tribune, Tampa city officials had condemned 17 of 18 of GreenPark’s mobile homes, relocating nearly two dozen tenants.

On several occasions, Scopelliti tried to get the city to pay him, including filing for bankruptcy protection, and bringing a 15-count federal lawsuit against the city in April 2014 for “inverse condemnation.”

In that lawsuit, Scopelliti accused the city of interfering with his leases and undermining his business by offering his tenants $1,500 each for relocation costs. He pointed out that once the city condemned the trailers, tenants stopped paying rent.

Scopelliti also argued that the city used selective code enforcement against him, claiming that Tampa had “multiple mobile home parks and other properties comparable to GreenPark …”

When the U.S. Middle District of Florida court ruled against him, Scopelliti continued his battle by filing with the U.S. Court of Appeals, which affirmed the District court’s ruling January 24, 2017.

That ruling paved the way for a suit filed Feb. 6 in Hillsborough County Circuit Court, where Tampa says Greenpark owes more than $13-million in unpaid code violation liens issued in 2011.

The city is now seeking to foreclose on Greenpark.

Scopelliti, a Canadian native, is no stranger to lawsuits of this type. He had previously sued a local government for condemning housing he owned. The Tampa Bay Business Journal reported that Scopelliti sued the City of St. Petersburg in a similar case in 2001.

Court records also show Ross Scopelliti sued wife Heather DeRigo Scopelliti – a musician and henna artist – for divorce in 2008. The couple agreed to share custody of son Angelo Tommaso Scopelliti.

 

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New St. Pete resident sues Tampa pawn shop over high-priced stolen wristwatch

A Texas man who recently relocated to Florida is suing over a rare wristwatch stolen and turning up at a Tampa pawn shop.

In late 2016, Edward C. Bailey moved into a $750K third-floor condo at the Parkshore Plaza high-rise on St. Petersburg’s tony Beach Drive. Court records show no mortgage recorded in Pinellas County, suggesting the purchase was paid in cash.

Bailey claims that his wristwatch was stolen (or misappropriated) Jan. 5, and was taken to Mr. Money Pawn and Gun at 3315 E. Hillsborough Ave. in Tampa.

The watch is no ordinary timepiece, however; Bailey describes it as one of 50 Breitling Bentley Flying B Chronographs  – with white mother of pearl, a guilloche pattern, rose gold with a pave case, and a “full pave diamond bracelet.”

In the claim for return of stolen property from a pawnbroker – filed Feb. 7 without the help of an attorney – Bailey puts the current value of the watch at $157,000. No police report was attached to the paperwork, although it is possible police helped the watch at Mr. Money.

While the claim does not specify who took the watch nor how it got to the pawnshop in question, Bailey is asking Mr. Money to return it.

According to TLO.com there is no “Edward C. Bailey” listed in St. Petersburg. The phone number he provided the court has a Dallas, Texas area code. Bailey apparently used a Texas driver’s license as identification for the notary, listed as Joseph M. Pugliano.

Edward Carl “Ed” Bailey is a well-known restaurateur in Dallas, who owns several dozen McDonald’s franchises in North Texas, but available records do not make it clear he is the same person bringing this Florida suit.

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Neighbor sues Derek Jeter over ‘excessive’ fence height at massive Davis Island home

Good fences make not make good neighbors, as New York Yankees superstar Derek Jeter faces off with a neighbor over the fence height around his massive Davis Islands property.

Deborah Ann “Debbie” Zomermaand is the 59-year-old treasurer of the Davis Islands Civic Association and vice president of Zomermaand Management Services. In 2006, Zomermaand and husband Randy purchased a $1.35-million, 4,608-square-foot Davis Islands home at 192 Corsica St. Four years later, the couple bought the home next door at 190 Corsica St.

Deborah sued Randy for divorce in October 2016; the case is currently in Hillsborough County court.

Jeter is the 42-year-old former All-Star player who played his entire professional career with the Yankees. In 2009, he built a 21,796-square-foot home at 58 Bahama Cir., which spans three lots on the Davis Islands waterfront. Jeter’s 7-bedroom, 9-bath house was recently appraised by the county at $11.9-million.

Jeter lives at the home with his wife, Hannah; the couple recently announced they are expecting a baby.

The Tampa Bay Times reports that the Tampa Variance Review Board approved Jeter’s request Jan. 10, allowing him to increase the height of the fence around his home to 8 feet and making the fencing opaque.

The variance is to help preserve the Jeter’s privacy and security. Attorney Brad Culpepper, the former Tampa Bay Buccaneers player who lives next door to Jeter, has supported the request.

Tampa Bay Times reporter Richard Danielson wrote about the height variance, citing intrusiveness and an increasing security risk, with “uninvited visitors get out of their cars to take photos, shoot video, lie down on the sidewalk, damage landscaping, antagonize neighborhood dogs and even fly drones.”

Debbie Zomermaand was the only person opposing the petition.

In a 156-page petition for Writ of Certiorari filed Feb. 6 in Hillsborough County Circuit Court, Debbie Zomermaand asks to overturn Jeter’s fence variance. She claims the Variance Review Board mistakenly concluded that she has no standing as an “aggrieved party” since she does not live within 250 feet of Jeter’s home.

Zomermaand also argues the Board exceeded its authority and Jeter’s situation does not actually meet the definition of “hardship.” Testimony by Jeter’s representatives, she adds, exaggerated the danger and inconvenience the Jeter family allegedly faces in the Davis Islands home.

This is not the first time Debbie Zomermaand has taken issue with what she considers an unusually tall fence. In 2013, Zomermaand sued over a property at 100 W. Davis Boulevard, claiming the Tampa City Council was wrong to allow the owner to build a 6-foot fence.

 

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Accused unlicensed contractor sues Pinellas County Licensing Board over fine

A Brandon contractor is suing the county licensing board after being fined for performing home repairs without a license.

The Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board is the Largo-based independent agency that regulates construction contractors. The Board issues licenses, monitors insurance coverage, approves building codes and finds violators for noncompliance.

The board has recently been a target of a series of investigative articles by the Tampa Bay Times accusing the Board’s leadership of playing “fast and loose” with its disciplinary process and operations.

Various Pinellas legislators, as well as a Times editorial, suggested several reforms, ranging from naming a new director with an outsider to entirely dismantling the agency.

Claude W. Peterman III and Claude W. Peterman Jr. are manager and assistant manager, respectively, of Claude Peterman Construction. Although it incorporated in May 2015, as of Sept. 23, 2016, the company was administratively dissolved for failing to file an annual report.

On its Facebook page, Peterman says it provides: “Complete home remodels, new kitchen remodel, Bathroom remodels, Interior & Exterior painting, Tile, Laminate wood floors, Carpet.”

A search on the Florida Department of Business & Professional Regulation (DBPR) website shows no record of an active contractor’s license for Claude Peterman Construction.

Court records suggest Brandon resident Claude William Peterman III, 26, is the son of 62-year-old-Claude Peterman Jr.

With several short stints in Florida prisons, Claude William Peterman Jr. had been arrested in 2002 with a blood alcohol content well above the legal limit with the report saying it was his ninth DUI arrest. most recently Peterman served five months in 2014 for driving, despite his permanently revoked license, and a “fourth or subsequent” DUI, as well as an attempt to flee police.

On Nov. 23, 2014, Peterman was released from custody — about six months before he and Claude Peterman III launched Claude Peterman Construction.

An arrest report dated Jan. 6, 2014, shows Peterman Jr. identifying as self-employed in the remodeling business.

According to court records, Claude Peterman Construction did unspecified home-remodeling work in either 2015 or 2016 at a 2,963-square-foot, single-family Clearwater home at 2584 Deer Run E. The home was purchased in December 2016 by Edgar and Vanessa Sherlock. It was previously owned by We Buy Tampa Bay Real Estate LLC.

An investigation by Paul Roberts, the Board’s designated agent, determined that the company was unlicensed.

The ruling resulted in a $634 penalty from the Licensing Board dated Jan. 10, 2017. Costs include a $500 fine, investigative time, postage and other miscellaneous expenses.

In a Feb. 6 filing to the Licensing Board Administrative Special Magistrate, Claude Peterman and Claude Peterman Construction are appealing the fine. However, court documents do not indicate a reason why the fine should be revoked.

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Airbnb becomes target after Clearwater man slips in private short-term rental

As home sharing grows in popularity worldwide, Airbnb is also becoming an increasingly larger target for people who view the network as having deep pockets.

Such as the case in Pinellas County Civil Court, where a Clearwater man who rented a private home in Miami for two nights slipped on a bathroom rug and fell after exiting the shower.

Sophorn Ly, 39, rented the home with seven other guests through Airbnb, the San Francisco-based company leading the peer-to-peer home sharing phenomenon.

After exiting the shower, Ly claims to have tripped on a rug lacking “proper non-slip backing,” leaving him with what he calls “severe and personal permanent injuries.”

But instead of suing the host, 41-year-old Juliana Terra Leite, Ly is turning his sights on Airbnb, claiming the company was negligent

Ly claims that it was Airbnb – not the homeowner – that had a responsibility to “ascertain the property … be in a reasonably safe condition.” Interestingly, he continues by declaring Airbnb “allowed” the rug to be placed at the home at 7712 SW 94th Terrace in Miami.

If Ly is successful in the suit, filed February 2 in Pinellas County, it could result in a significant change in the operation of Airbnb – which already requires individuals hosting through the network to submit any guest injuries to their own insurance companies first. The lawsuit does not indicate if either Ly or the homeowner took this initial step.

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1010 Central condo owners claim ‘defective’ construction, sue builder

Condominium owners in downtown St. Petersburg are hopping mad over alleged “defective” construction of their complex, as well as a variety of building code violations.

The 1010 Central Condominium Association, a nonprofit corporation representing owners in the complex at 1010 Central Ave., are suing the project’s owners and general contractor for what they claim was failure to “employ good design engineering and construction practices.”

Defendants in the case, filed Feb. 3 in Pinellas County Circuit Court, are Georgia-based Batson-Cook of Tampa Inc. and MPI 1010 Central LLC.

In 2004, Miles Properties of Atlanta announced plans for a five-story mixed use condominium complex, featuring 112 one- and two-bedroom apartments and retail stores on the ground floor.

To develop the project, Miles created MPI 1010 Central. In 2010, Miles declared bankruptcy.

Batson-Cook was the general contractor on 1010 Central. Residents began occupying the units in 2007, and Batson-Cook went on to develop other projects in the Tampa Bay region. 

As the owners’ representative, the Association claims many Central units have “defects and deficiencies,” first hidden from owners, who later found it would take large sums of money to fix.

While the Association is blaming both Mills Properties and Batson-Cook for alleged violations of building codes, court documents do not specify the problems at the now-decade-old building. They do say the issues were “hidden and/or concealed and were not discoverable by reasonable and customary inspection.”

Per the suit, Baston-Cook “breached implied warranties by failing in designing or constructing the buildings and the improvements, to comply with the requirements of applicable building codes, failing to design or construct in accordance with proper and approved construction plans and specifications, and failing to employ good design, engineering and construction practices.”

The Association is demanding a jury trial.

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Former East Lake High baseball player accuses coaches of shaking him down for cash

Robert Michael “Rob” Lober

A former East Lake High School baseball player is suing the Pinellas County School Board, accusing two coaches of shaking him down for cash in 2015.

Robert Michael “Rob” Lober — also known as Robert Michael Schembri — is a 20-year-old Pinellas County resident. Lober works customer service at a Tampa Publix, according to his LinkedIn bio, and is currently a student at USF studying finance.

In early 2015, Lober was a catcher and third baseman on the East Lake baseball team, when coaches Dan Genna and Rafael Perez allegedly began pressuring him give or lend them money on several occasions.

The coaches knew Lober had recently settled a personal injury claim; he repeatedly rejected their demands for money. Lober accuses the pair of retaliation by benching him for most or all of the 2015 season as well as failing to treat him “fairly and honestly.”

Genna was East Lake High baseball coach for five seasons when he resigned in June 2015. He had a 102-39 record while at East Lake, leading the Eagles to the Class 7A state final in 2014. Before joining East Lake, Genna coached at Tarpon Springs High for seven seasons.

“I feel this is the best time to step away from the program,” Genna told the Tampa Bay Times. “I just don’t want to do the all-year grind.”

After his resignation, Genna continued to teach at East Lake, 1300 Silver Eagle Dr. in Tarpon Springs. As of February 2017, Carmela Haley is the school’s principal and Zach Roper is head baseball coach.

In a lawsuit filed in Pinellas County Circuit Court Feb. 6, Lober says the benching cost him a shot at a college baseball scholarship, among other financial benefits. Lober is asking for a jury trial.

Records suggest Lober is the son of Debra DiStefano-Schembri, a Palm Harbor resident who married Peter Schembri in 2012. Police records show that in August 2013, DiStefano-Schembri was arrested by Pinellas County sheriffs on a single charge of child abuse.

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