Attorney Expects Client's Exoneration If Cory Lake Isles Case Goes To Court


Article Courtesy of The Tampa Tribune

By Laura Kinsler

Published August 16, 2008

CORY LAKE ISLES - Gene Thomason's attorney says the developer will be completely exonerated if his fraud case goes to court.

In an interview with the Tribune, Ron Clark denied that Thomason ever used funds collected from Cory Lake Isles homeowners to pay personal expenses. Thomason and his codefendants have until Aug. 25 to file responses to the lawsuit.

"There will be a total exoneration that these people have done everything they should have been doing and that Cory Lakes Limited spent far in excess of what it was reimbursed," Clark said.

The homeowners accuse Gene Thomason of using nearly $20,000 in property owners association money to dig a well and pay for construction of a sea wall at his home in the gated community. They also say he used association money to buy a boat motor, fishing equipment and a custom boat top.

Clark said the association paid for a 440-foot wall near the community's beach club. It was built at the same time Thomason paid separately for a wall to be constructed on his own property. The other receipts, he contends, were erroneously included among the financial documents that were turned over to homeowners who sued in October for access to the information.

According to the records, the association paid thousands of dollars for holiday bonuses for Thomason's employees and purchased office supplies for his real estate office and other companies. Clark defended those charges, saying the employees often did work for Cory Lake Isles.

Thomason's wife and son also were named as defendants, as was Cory Lakes Limited, which has provided operations and maintenance services to the community since its inception.

"They received 15,000 documents and this is what they came up with?" Clark said. "I think we'll be able to show not only are these things minuscule with respect to the overall management of Cory Lake Isles, but it appears that the amount Cory Lakes Limited has spent on the operations and maintenance is millions of dollars in excess of what Cory Lakes Limited was reimbursed."

As the developer, Thomason was required to pay for the community's budget shortfalls because he wasn't assessed for operations and maintenance costs for his vacant lots until 2007.

Clark also explained Thomason's demand for indemnification from the Cory Lake Isles Community Development District. The CDD board added $500,000 to its proposed 2009 budget to cover the legal expense of either indemnifying Thomason or defending itself from the demand.

District manager John Daugirda said he would like to "refine" that amount before the board adopts the final budget Aug. 26.

The district's contract with Cory Lakes Limited contains an indemnification clause protecting the company and its employees from any losses or legal fees. The contract, however, was signed in 2007. It contains no language granting retroactive indemnity.

Before that, Cory Lakes Limited never had a written contract with either the property owners association or the community development district. The allegations set forth in the lawsuit occurred before 2007.

The contract also includes six paragraphs of background information detailing the historical role played by Cory Lakes Limited, beginning in 1991.

"In this case, it's very determinative, when you put all this background in a written agreement, the intent would be to cover previous acts," Clark said. "If you don't want to cover prior acts, you would say no prior acts."

The community development district's attorney, Mark Straley, refused to comment on the case.

The plaintiffs' attorney, Mark Basurto, called Clark's argument a "sham."

"The contract covers things going forward and not things in the past," he said. "The request [for indemnification] is improper and is really just a veiled attempt by Gene to turn the community against my clients."

Basurto also said he was troubled by Clark's original letter, dated July 23, which demanded indemnity for all of the defendants in the lawsuit, including CDD Supervisors Suzanne Manzi and Jane Taggart. He subsequently withdrew the request for Manzi and Taggart. Manzi said she was not aware that she was included in the demand when she voted July 24 to increase the budget for legal costs associated with the case. Straley, who said Taggart and Manzi had no legal conflict at the July 24 meeting, explained that he had not seen the letter until after the meeting.

"It was e-mailed to me the day before, but I had already left the office," Straley said.

Basurto said he doubted that Clark would have sought indemnification for Manzi and Taggart without notifying them. "And even if you assume that he did, at the very least Mr. Thomason knew what was going on and sat silent when he should have made everyone aware of the conflict," he said.

The board did not take official action regarding the demand at the meeting other than setting money aside to pay legal costs. Manzi said she hopes to bring that $500,000 budget item down.

"The entire board is looking for guidance from John [Daugirda] and Mark Straley in terms of what is really involved," she said.

Taggart could not be reached for comment.