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Poker championship winners accuse Tampa Bay Downs of running Ponzi scheme

John Ott

John Ott, a Tampa resident and district sales manager at Performance Foodservice, is also a professional poker player. Tampa Bay Downs, which began as a horse track for gamblers, now offers poker in its Silks Poker Room.

Ott considers Silks as his “home” club.

For years, Silks was one of the clubs across the U.S. holding tournaments for the Player’s Poker Championship, a Pompano Beach-based poker tour. The Silks competition was intended to be a “feeder” event, leading to the PPC Poker Tour finals in Aruba.

In November 2016, a group of players – Ott; Stephen Deutsch of Baltimore; James Beadnell of Ohio; Michael Lerner of Maryland; and Joan Sandoval from Wisconsin — won five of the top six prizes at the 2016 PPC Main Event finals, an amount well over $300,000.

Ott finished in sixth place at the event, held at the Hilton Aruba Resort Casino & Spa, for $32,085.

Instead of paying out full cash awards, however, Ott and the others say PPC gave them each $10,000, promising a share of future cash until for the rest. They refused, and now are claiming they are owed just under $300,000.

Ott says he is still owed $32,085.

In a lawsuit filed Jan. 17 in Hillsborough County, the plaintiffs say Tampa Bay Downs joined PPC to promote what they claim is a fraudulent Ponzi scheme where future payoffs are used to pay past winners.

They are asking Tampa Bay Downs, whose president is Stella Thayer, to make them whole.

Thayer, who has been with Tampa Bay Downs for more than 50 years, was named one of 2016’s most influential women in Tampa Bay area sports. Her brother, Howell Ferguson, serves as vice president.

The suit argues that the PPC Main Event in Aruba is “largely operated by” Tampa Bay Downs, sending poker dealers, a floor supervisor, and Silks director Patrick Murphy to work the annual championship event. Murphy, it continues, is alleged to be a co-owner of the poker room used for the tournament.

The Hillsborough County action is intended to be a companion to a similar suit filed Jan. 3 in Maryland against PPC and its principals, Bryan Oulton and Thomas “Sandy” Swartzbaugh. Plaintiffs decided on a Florida suit because Tampa Bay Downs does no business in Maryland.

 

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Seminole tae kwon do instructor in jail for child molestation faces first lawsuit

Andrew Jin Kim

A tae kwon do instructor accused in 2016 of multiple child molestations over a period of years faces his first lawsuit in Pinellas County Circuit Court.

In early 2016, Andrew Jin Kim, an instructor at Oh’s Taekwondo in Seminole, was arrested and charged with molesting two female students, aged 6 and 7.

Shortly after, WFLA reported that a third child came forward to accuse Kim, now 24, of molestation.

Detectives said, Kim, a native of Illinois, worked at the dojo from 2012 to August 2015.

Myung K. Oh and his wife, Myung J. Oh, are listed in tax records as owners of the property on which Oh’s is located, 7520 Seminole Blvd. in Seminole. At least one news article about the alleged molestation identified the dojo’s owner as Richard Oh — possibly Myung K. Oh is the same person.

“I am very sorry for the victims and the families. I am truly sorry for what happened,” Richard Oh told the Tampa Bay Times. “We teach students to defend themselves from people like (Kim). He got caught, and I’m glad he got caught.”

In the first lawsuit emerging in the case, filed Dec. 29 in Pinellas County, Sakha Temeka Reed, a 40-year-old St. Petersburg resident, claims that over a three-year period, Andrew Kim “continually sexually abused and molested” her minor child, listed as “John Doe.” The molestation left the child — which is alternately referred to as “John Doe” and as “her” — with severe psychological injuries.

Reed is accusing Oh’s of negligence in its hiring, training, and supervision of Kim.

The Tampa Bay Times article said when confronted, Kim “admitted to the allegations and was arrested,” although court documents do not give a clear indication why there will be a trial. He remains in Pinellas County Jail.

The first three charges against Kim were filed in February 2016, and two additional charges were filed in April 2016 — which could bring the number of alleged molestation victims to as many as five.

About three weeks before his arrest, court documents show Kim married Laura Marcela Leal Correa. She filed for divorce in June 2016.

In an unrelated incident, Myung J. Oh sought a restraining order in March 2016 against her son, James Oh. The mother accused the son of robbing her multiple times, threatening her and other family members, firing a gun in the house, threatening suicide, and saying he was addicted to drugs and alcohol.

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Attorney suing Clearwater dealership over warranty has former identity, darker past

Lawyer Chloe Jay Roberts, formerly known as Jennifer Ann Latham

Lawyer Chloe Jay Roberts, while suing a Pinellas County dealership for failing to honor a warranty, has revealed a former identity with a somewhat darker past.

Roberts, 38, is a Miami-based attorney and graduate of the University of Tampa and Stetson University College of Law.

In August 2015, Roberts bought a 2006 BMW 325i from Elite Car Sales for about $12,500, after the dealership had allegedly promised any future engine problems would be covered under warranty.

Elite is a Clearwater used-car dealership at 18400 U.S. Hwy 19 N managed by Panayiotis Vasiloudes.

But in a suit filed Jan. 6 in Pinellas County Circuit Court, Roberts claims that repeated problems with both the engine and windshield wipers left her stranded on the roadside several times. She adds that Elite refused to cover repairs unless Roberts drove the car to the dealership — “hundreds of miles” away.

Attempted repairs were unsuccessful, and Roberts says she experienced uncomfortable “rapacious stares” by dealership owners, who called her “beautiful” and asked her on dates.

Roberts is seeking damages for breach of contract.

As a primary attorney at the Roberts & Associates law firm, Roberts’ practice specializes in “victims of sexual harassment, discrimination, hostile work environments, domestic violence, date rape and sex trafficking.”

With over 10 years’ litigation experience, Roberts says she has “a winning trial record, and have settled millions on behalf of my clients.”

According to her Roberts & Associates bio, Roberts is an active volunteer attorney with Bay Area Legal Services and has served on a variety of nonprofit boards, including the PACE Center for Girls. After graduating from Stetson, she “gained courtroom experience in the Legal Division of the Bureau of ATF where I assisted in getting ‘The Radisson Hotel Killer’, Nely Rodriguez, sentenced to prison for life.”

A Miami native, Roberts appears to have had spent a good amount of her career in Tampa.

In November 2016, she penned “The Issue With Confidential Sexual Harassment Settlements.” On top of her legal work, Roberts wrote a play — Rendezvous La Petite Morte — performed in 2014 at the Orlando International Fringe Theatre Festival.

Although she has become an accomplished attorney and author, Roberts also has a previous history under another name.

In January 2016, she was arrested in Tampa for DUI, with a police report showing she is also known as Jennifer Ann Latham.

Highlands County court records show that in late 2011, Latham changed her name to “Chloe Jay Roberts.” Before the name change, Latham was arrested twice for domestic violence — 2003 in Hillsborough and 2010 in Highlands County — as well as in 2004 for trespassing in Hillsborough. She was also cited for careless driving in Hillsborough in 2007; in 2009, Latham was ticketed in Highlands for driving with a suspended license.

For her 2016 DUI arrest, the “permanent” address Roberts gave police was 4526 Granada Ave. in Sebring. However, Highlands County records show that address is a mobile home belonging to Nellie M. Latham; before that, it was co-owned by Jack Latham, who died in 2006.

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Largo biker claims he is illegally in jail for attempted murder

Joseph O’Donnell

An alleged member of a Pasco County outlaw motorcycle gang, in jail for a 2015 attempted murder, is asking the court to free him, claiming unconstitutional imprisonment and excessive bail.

Largo resident Joseph O’Donnell is a 42-year-old New York native currently at the Pinellas County Jail awaiting trial.

O’Donnell, a day laborer for Labor Ready, was arrested Dec. 23, 2015, on charges of attempted first-degree murder, aggravated assault and tampering with physical evidence.

In a Jan. 4, 2017 petition for writ of habeas corpus, O’Donnell – who filed a handwritten form without the help of an attorney – claimed he was unmarried with one dependent. O’Donnell also said he was responsible for child support.

O’Donnell is asking the court to discharge him from jail because he has been “unlawfully imprisoned.” He argues both bail and bond amounts are “excessive,” unconstitutional, and out of his financial reach.

In police reports on the incident, as well as a Facebook post by the Largo Police, O’Donnell — known as “Spook” — is an “associate of the Legends Motorcycle Club in Pasco.”

Just before Christmas 2015, Allen Frye and Frank Bagnuolo allegedly visited O’Donnell at his Largo home to pick up some “patches.” At the time, O’Donnell lived at 705 Sixth Ave. NE, Apt. B. An argument ensued, when O’Donnell allegedly pulled a 9 mm gun, shooting Frye in the face. He then pointed the gun at Bagnuolo, who told the story to police while at Bayfront Medical Center.

Police also interviewed Joseph Ingleston, who was O’Donnell’s roommate, and Lori Forsey (Frye’s mother).

A May 2015 Tampa Bay Times article says “outlaw” motorcycle gangs are “still prevalent” throughout the Tampa Bay area: “… many of their members have day jobs, running tattoo shops, strip clubs or tow yards. A few are said to be lawyers or even doctors.”

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Philanthropist Kiran Patel embroiled in downtown Tampa ownership dispute

After spending $13 million, a local investment company is suing over a block in downtown Tampa with a disputed ownership that includes well-known philanthropist Kiran Patel.

Incorporated in 2006, 3MT Investments is owned by Jugal K. “Jay” Taneja, a 73-year-old Tampa developer and health care and pharmaceutical executive. Among other roles, Taneja has served as chair of Largo-based GeoPharma.

In addition, 3MT is the manager of Fuel Group, a co-defendant in the action, whose registered agent is listed as Jugal Taneja. Fuel Group and 3MT are located at 6911 Bryan Dairy Road, Suite 210, in Largo. The Tanejas live on Bayshore Boulevard in Tampa.

Another co-defendant in a lawsuit over ownership of five properties in Tampa is Dr. Kiran Chhotubhai Patel, 67, the renowned former cardiologist, health care executive, developer and philanthropist. Patel is one of the best-known figures in the Tampa Bay region’s Indian-American community.

The Tampa Bay Times reported in December that Patel announced plans to open an osteopathic medical school on the former Clearwater Christian College property.

Patel is also seeking to build a 32,000-square-foot home in Tampa with his wife, fellow cardiologist Pallavi Patel.

On April 19, 2006, a Tampa company called Fuel Investments and Development spent just over $13-million, spread out over four separate transactions, to acquire a square block in downtown Tampa.

The five addresses on the block — just east of the Tampa Convention Center — are 220 S. Franklin Street; 228 S. Franklin Street; 238 S. Franklin Street; an office building on 401 S. Florida Avenue; and 411 S. Florida Avenue.

A 2009 Tampa Bay Business Journal article names the investors, which include father-and-son Indira Lalwani and Jai Lalwani, saying that the purchase was “backed by philanthropist Dr. Kiran Patel.”

The initial project was to build a hotel, later replaced by a plan to develop dormitory housing for University of Tampa students.

Named developer in the project was Fuel Group LLC, a troubled company involved in several court actions in 2009.

The 3MT firm claims ownership of a 7.5 percent stake in Fuel Investments & Development, which in turn owns the block listed in the suit.

However, in 2016, it allegedly sought to buy out Fuel Group’s controlling stake in Fuel Investments, which then led to the discovery that Kiran Patel, not Fuel Group, owned the controlling stake.

The lawsuit, filed in Hillsborough Circuit Court Jan. 13, claims Patel “is exercising control” over Fuel Investments and “refuses to relinquish his assumed majority interest and recognize the interest” of the plaintiff.

Plaintiffs 3MT are asking the court to either declare it is the owner of a controlling stake in Fuel Investments or that 3MT was “defrauded.”

In the suit, 3MT argues the purchase of Fuel Group’s stake in Fuel Investments was negotiated with Vani Lalwani, also named as a co-defendant. They say Lalwani claimed she was the controlling member of Jai Enterprises LLC, which subsequently was a controlling member of Fuel Group.

The square block in dispute currently encompasses a three-story office building at 401 S. Florida Avenue and four parking lots (BayLawsuit.com)

 

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Suit claims barbecue at Vinoy made conference attendees sick

A conference last year at the Vinoy Renaissance St. Petersburg Resort & Golf Club resulted in nearly 20 people falling ill, according to a lawsuit filed in Pinellas County Circuit Court.

In April 2013, Swarovski, a privately-held Austrian company known for premium crystals, jewelry and other accessories, held a conference at the Vinoy, the historic, 361-room hotel located on the St. Petersburg waterfront. Managed by Marriott, the hotel is owned by Texas-based FelCor Lodging Trust.

Judy Beauparlant, who flew in from her home in Canada to attend the event, was among the Swarovski employees at the conference.

An outdoor barbecue, held on the last day of the event, allegedly left Beauparlant and at least 18 other employees ill. Several days after the conference, she suffered from “acute and significant abdominal pain, inability to urinate and difficulty walking.”

Beauparlant claims her illness forced her to undergo surgery, resulting in her hospitalization for diverticulitis, Salmonella and a ruptured bowel.

In the suit filed Jan. 12, Beauparlant says the food at the barbecue included dairy-based items, shellfish and meats. She alleges those items were left outside for an “extended period of time,” cooled only by ice, and located next to “hot grills.”

Beauparlant’s lawsuit does not indicate if any of her co-workers are also seeking compensation from Marriott in or out of court. She is seeking damages for negligence.

Interestingly, Beauparlant’s lawsuit does not list FelCor Lodging as a co-defendant.

The Vinoy is at 501 5th Ave. NE in St. Petersburg.

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Natural fast-food chain Evos faces healthy judgment on defaulted loan

Evos, the Tampa-based fast-food restaurant chain, is being accused of defaulting on a $100K loan.

Founded in 1994, Evos Holdings LLC advertises its restaurants as a healthy alternative to typical burger joints. The environmentally-conscious company, headquartered at 609 S. Howard Ave., seeks to make customers feel good about the food they are eating, with natural, organic and fair trade ingredients.

On December 1, 2012, Evos Holdings borrowed $100,000 from Steven Marx of 5104 S. Westshore Blvd. in Tampa.

In a lawsuit filed Dec. 29, Marx claims Evos defaulted on the loan, and now owes the entire $100,000 in principal plus accrued interest.

A 2002 St. Petersburg Times article notes the first Evos location open 1994 on Tampa’s Bay to Bay Boulevard. Co-founders Michael Jeffers and Alkis Crassas were “college buddies at McGill University in Montreal, where they majored in business administration.”

Since then, Evos opened restaurants in multiple Florida cities, as well as North Carolina, Georgia, and California, as well as in multiple Florida cities.

However, nearly a quarter-century after the first Evos restaurant opened, the chain appears to be no closer to widespread success than when they started in 1994.

Over the years, the company expanded and shrunk; new stores had opened while others closed.

According to the Evos website, there is only four Florida locations, and none listed in North Carolina, Georgia, or California.

 

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Insurance company sues Tampa ‘entrepreneur of the year’ for unpaid workers’ comp premiums

Lisa Bythewood

A Tampa businesswoman faces trouble with her California insurance company, which claims she owes $627K in workers’ compensation premiums.

VHU Express is a courier company owned by Lisa Dianne Bythewood, 48, and Dr. Craig Bythewood, 49. The couple married in 2008.

VHU grew substantially after it contracted with Amazon.com to deliver packages in South Florida, Boston and other regions.

San Diego-based Insurance Company of the West is a subsidiary of ICW Group, which says it is the “largest group of privately held insurance companies domiciled in California.”

In 2015, the Tampa Bay Business Journal named Lisa Bythewood, as VHU’s CEO and president, one of the finalists in its 2015 Businesswoman of the Year competition. Bythewood was listed in the “Entrepreneur” category and eventually won the “Roar” award. She also published a Christian-living book in 2011 called “Waiting on the Promise.”

Craig Bythewood is a professor of finance and economics, calling himself “The Finance Doctor: Providing your prescription for financial healing.” According to his LinkedIn bio, Bythewood’s LinkedIn bio, he and Lisa operate Vertical Holdings Unlimited, a motivational speaking company. He previously served as financial education director for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Bythewood also won a national dance-off contest in 2007, according to an article (“Dancing Dad No. 1 in people’s hearts”) in the Tampa Bay Times.

In a complaint filed Jan. 10 in the Hillsborough County 13th Judicial Circuit Court, Insurance Company claims VHU Express owes it $627,000 in unpaid workers’ compensation and employers’ liability coverage premiums.

This is not the first time VHU’s employment policies have been targeted with legal action.

In 2016, the Boston Business Journal reported that the Massachusetts attorney general fined VHU more than $80,000 for violating the state’s wage law.

“The investigation determined that from December 2015 to February 2016, a total of 52 employees had not been paid for work performed delivering Amazon packages, according to the AG’s office,” the Journal wrote. “State law requires employers to pay most employees within six days of the end of the pay period during which the wages were earned.”

Also in 2016, the Miami-based firm FairLaw announced they were seeking a punitive class-action lawsuit against VHU in federal court for “allegations of unpaid minimum wages, overtime wages, and violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act.” The suit, “Benjamin and Alonso v. VHU Express, Inc., et al.,” represented VHU delivery drivers working in Florida.

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Racial hate forces homebuyers to cancel Davis Islands deal, owner refuses refund

A married couple of Indian descent, looking to buy a Davis Islands home last year, canceled the deal after angry neighbors hurled violent racial epithets.

Now the homeowners are refusing to refund a $30K good faith deposit.

Kaderbhai Ali Asgar, also known as Ali Asgar Kaderbhai, is a 52-year-old Tampa resident who works as an engineering intern and secretary for A-One Engineering & Consultants. Asgar’s wife, Sehera Ali Asgar, 49, is A-One’s manager. Herbert Roy “Herb” Donica is a 63-year-old attorney at Donica Law and Donica Mediation Solutions in Tampa, along with his wife, 62-year-old attorney Janice “Jan” Donica. Herb Donica had previously served as president of the Tampa Bay Bankruptcy Bar Association.

In August 2016, the Asgars agreed to buy the Donica’s 2,766-square-foot Davis Islands home for $658,000. The home in question is at 632 Luzon Ave. in Tampa.

Debra Lynn “Debbie” Olson, a 59-year-old Tampa resident, lives with her husband Bruce Harlan Olson in a neighboring 3,278-square-foot home at 631 Luzon Ave.

David Harvey Howard, 58, is the owner of a now-defunct company On Your Own with Help at Home. He purportedly lives nearby at 628 Luzon Ave. in a 3,227-square-foot home owned by attorney Bret Thomas Hamlin.

When the Asgars, joined by two family members wearing “traditional Indian Sari attire,” arrived for a final walk-thru Nov. 4, 2016, a day before the home closing, Debbie Olson allegedly burst into the home, knocked down a Donica family employee, and began yelling the Asgars were “fucking up the neighborhood.”

Olson then left to go to the home of David Howard.

According to the suit filed Jan. 3 in Hillsborough County Circuit Court, Howard then “angrily strode into the front yard” of the Donicas’ home, screaming that the Asgars were not welcome. Howard told Herb Donica he would “break all of your fucking windows” and “burn your fucking house down.”

Howard’s actions — which included calling the couple “fucking ragheads” — caused the Asgar’s young daughter to become “hysterical” and cry.

A Realtor for the Donicas’ called Tampa Police, who filed a report. On the same day as the outburst, records show both Herb and Jan Donica filed repeat-violence complaints against Howard, which the court rejected.

Howard had been in trouble before. In 2010, he was found guilty of misdemeanor battery, and faced a repeat-violence claim by a woman unrelated to the incident with the Asgars.

After the 2016 incident, the Asgars decided to call off the home purchase. The Donicas allegedly refused to refund the $30,000 deposit.

The Asgars are seeking damages because of inducement, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and tortious interference with a contract. They are asking the court to order a return of the $30,000 deposit.

In 2011, Franchising.com reported that the Asgars signed a franchising agreement to open as many as 25 Tasti D-Lite locations over the next 10 years throughout the Tampa Bay area.

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Maximo Elementary principal sued by employee fired after reporting abuse

Lakisha Falana

A principal assigned to improve one of Pinellas County’s infamous “failure factories” is being sued by a co-worker who reported a student assault, and was fired for her trouble.

Lakisha Falana, 42, is principal of Maximo Elementary School, which she took over after the school received three consecutive “F” grades. Falana was previously principal at Tarpon Springs Elementary before she took over the Maximo job in 2014.

Emily Marie Vaultonburg, a 35-year-old St. Petersburg resident, served as a behavior specialist for Maximo Elementary at the time of the incident. According to a 2009 Tampa Bay Times article, Vaultonburg was a teacher at Woodlawn Elementary until 2008.

In 2015, Falana – along with principals of five other schools identified by the Tampa Bay Times as ‘failure factories” – met with several local African-American leaders.

As part of the effort to improve the struggling Maximo Elementary, Falana partnered with the CEO of architectural firm Harvard Jolly in 2016 as part of the Pinellas County School District’s Executive PASS program, which pairs business leaders with school principals to help improve school and student performance.

By August 2016, Falana’s efforts led to Maximo improving by at least two grade letters.

Despite Falana’s impressive record, Vaultonburg says she was at Maximo Elementary September 27, 2016, when she “heard an adult physically assaulting a student with a belt in the school bathroom.” The adult was the boy’s uncle.

Vaultonburg told Falana she believed alleged assault should be reported to the Florida Department of Children and Families. Falana allegedly disagreed, accusing Vaultonburg of being “too emotional.”

Nevertheless, Vaultonburg reported the incident; and was fired later the same day.

On Jan. 5, Vaultonburg filed suit in Pinellas County’s Sixth Judicial Circuit Court against Falana — and, by default, the Pinellas County School Board — for illegal retaliation.

Vaultonburg says she also told assistant principal Tekoa Moses about the bathroom beating.

According to the Tampa Bay Times, a spokesperson for the school district explains Vaultonburg’s dismissal was not related to the reported child abuse. In an email, Lisa Wolf said the termination was for “performance issues that occurred prior to the date of her dismissal.”

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