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Philanthropist Kiran Patel embroiled in downtown Tampa ownership dispute

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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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Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.

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