Saturday, April 13, 2024

Another Legal Issue For Al Zucaro

Al Zucaro

Rockland County lawsuit

Three weeks ago, I reported on the six lawsuits that had been filed since 2007 in Palm Beach County against Al Zucaro, who is running for mayor of Boca Raton against incumbent Susan Haynie. All six actions claimed that Zucaro had failed to repay loans or debt.

In addition, Zucaro faces a 12-year-old lawsuit in Rockland County, New York, alleging that he wrongly took $137,500 from the estate of his late uncle, Thomas Imperato. In November 2014, the court ordered Zucaro to return the money “due to the fraudulent actions of the respondents,” who were Zucaro and his late wife. Zucaro appealed. The court heard arguments two weeks ago.

Zucaro’s legal adversary has been Angela Amengual, the executrix of Imperato’s estate. Zucaro earlier tried to block the will from going to probate, claiming that Amengual exercised “undue influence” over Imperato.

In 2007, the Surrogate’s Court of Rockland County rejected Zucaro’s argument. Zucaro appealed that ruling, and lost. The four-judge appellate panel ruled unanimously in 2009 that Amengual had “made a prima facie showing that the will was not procured through undue influence” and admitted the will to probate. The judges found Zucaro’s “remaining contentions without merit.”

Eight years ago, a Palm Beach County judge ordered Zucaro to repay a business investor $406,000. Zucaro has not paid any of that judgment. He settled lawsuits with his former in-laws alleging that he had failed to repay $40,000 in loans for property in Georgia. He settled a lawsuit with another investor to whom Zucaro owed $150,000.

To that record, add a case in which a judge called Zucaro’s action “fraudulent.” On Monday, I asked Zucaro, among other things, whether the money from Imperato’s estate remained in an account from which Zucaro could return it. I also asked, given the judge’s ruling in the Imperato case, what qualifies him to be mayor.

Zucaro would not answer the questions. Instead, he said in an email, “This is an ongoing legal matter, and we fully expect to win the appeal. The fact is Boca Raton residents are far more concerned about the lack of media coverage regarding the mayor’s voting record on rampant overdevelopment and traffic gridlock than they are about any personal issues of (sic) Mayor Haynie or myself.”

Kellyanne Conway couldn’t have ducked the questions any better.

And BocaWatch?

When he became a candidate, Zucaro said he would give up his role as publisher of BocaWatch. He claims that the website is operating independently of him.

That supposed separation never seemed believable. Now, to no one’s surprise, BocaWatch has endorsed Zucaro. The endorsement referred to Zucaro’s “challenges in his business dealings,” yet dismissed them because “Mr. Zucaro never suffered censure or suspension of his legal license during this time in his career.”

Which is beside the point. None of the lawsuits challenged Zucaro’s actions as a lawyer. None of the lawsuits, which included a foreclosure on his home, included a complaint with the Florida Bar. Judging by these comments, we can presume that Zucaro remains in control of BocaWatch and that the website will continue its role as a Zucaro campaign publicist.

Golf course update

As I had reported would happen, Lennar has offered to sell the closed Ocean Breeze golf course to the Greater Boca Raton Beach & Park District. The company wants $24 million for the roughly 200 acres.

The deal actually would be with Lennar and the Wells Fargo subsidiary that owns the property. Lennar has a contract to buy it, based on being able to develop land that under a deed covenant must be a golf course. Only a majority vote of units within the surrounding Boca Teeca community could allow development. The sale would include the land and all buildings, one of them a former hotel.

Any sale also would involve the city, which would have to provide financing. The beach and park district board received the offer at its meeting last Monday and voted to proceed. One day later, the city council passed a resolution agreeing with the district’s decision to buy Ocean Breeze but without agreeing to the $24 million price or committing the city on financing.

In addition, Lennar raised its offer for the city’s western golf course from $41 million to $73 million, comparable to the offers from Compson Associates and GL Homes. Lennar’s first offer included a conveyance of Ocean Breeze for $1 million, meaning that the city would have netted $31 million. Lennar’s new offer removes most conditions related to how much development Palm Beach County might approve on the western course.

Given how quickly things are moving, next Tuesday’s long-planned joint meeting between the council and the district board comes at a perfect time. The 10 elected officials have much to discuss about Ocean Breeze.

The biggest issue is how much Ocean Breeze is worth. That Wells Fargo subsidiary paid only $4 million for the property just 13 months ago. In December 2004, however, it sold for $7.2 million. The buyer was a company that got approval to develop part of the course, but the project never was built.

GL Homes, which was first to offer $73 million with basically no conditions, is pushing back against the Lennar offer. Marty Steinberg, a GL lawyer, sent a letter to the district last week challenging the $24 million figure. GL has hired two appraisers who valued Ocean Breeze at $5 million and $3.2 million, respectively. Steinberg called the $24 million offer “exorbitant.”

Steinberg further disputed any suggestion that including the buildings justified a higher price. GL also paid for an appraisal of the hotel site, which was $2.2 million. As GL sees it, the collective property is worth no more than $7.15 million. The district, Steinberg wrote, has “no legal basis to justify” a $24 million sale. GL does not object to the sale itself but to the price.

Acquiring the land would not be the only expense. The district and city would have to clean up the property and return the course to playing condition. Some council members have talked about making Ocean Breeze a championship course, which would further increase the cost. Since the city already runs the western course, there might be no net increase to the operating budget, but Northwest Second Avenue, which is the main entrance to Boca Teeca, might have to be widened. Boca Teeca residents have opposed it.

From the city’s standpoint, the other key question is how to finance the purchase. Should the council seek a bond issue? If so, should the voters decide? Would the city net enough money—perhaps toward the downtown campus project—to justify a purchase that mostly would help Boca Teeca residents who don’t want Ocean Breeze developed?

There is much to consider in a short time. The council doesn’t meet this week. The district will hear an update at its meeting tonight. The joint meeting is in seven days.

Councilman Robert Weinroth said, “I’m frustrated by the speed of this.” District board member Craig Ehrnst called the $24 million figure “cheap” compared to the cost of Sugar Sand Park but “incredibly expensive” compared to the appraisals GL Homes produced.

“So, now,” Ehrnst said, “the due diligence period begins.” He has sent questions to Art Koski, the district’s executive director, and expects “a mountain of paper, attorney work product and financial analysis. I have faith that more information, with the support of Boca Teeca homeowners will help us arrive at a good conclusion. There should be no rush, as we have time.”

Practically speaking, the district can’t move without the city’s blessing. It has taken more than a year to schedule the council-district meeting. The participants will need to hear a lot of answers on Ocean Breeze.

Campaign finance reports

Candidates in Boca Raton’s March 14 election have submitted their January campaign finance reports. The candidate with the most money continues to be the candidate in the most lopsided race.

That would be Seat A incumbent Scott Singer, who through January had raised about $83,000, roughly $17,000 of it coming last month. Singer faces Patricia Dervishi, who filed on the last afternoon of qualifying and has received just $25 in contributions. She has loaned herself $1,000.

Though Zucaro also filed on the final day, he roughly matched Haynie in fund-raising for the month. Each received about $18,000. Zucaro also gave his campaign a $10,000 loan. Haynie has raised a total of $60,000, including a $500 loan. Three years ago, she raised $150,000 against Anthony Majhess.

Among Zucaro’s notable contributions are $1,000 from James Hendrey, who led the petition drive against a restaurant on the Wildflower property—across the Intracoastal Waterway from Hendrey’s home. Zucaro received $1,000 from the Shoppes on 18th Street, which is controlled by his wife, Yvonne Boice. He also got $1,000 from Frank Chapman, who ran unsuccessfully for city council in 2012 and 2015. Like Zucaro, Chapman had a list of legal issues on which I reported.

In January, Haynie received $1,000 from Angelo Bianco of Crocker Partners, which supports changes that would allow residential development in the Midtown neighborhood. Crocker owns several properties in Midtown, most notably Boca Center. Haynie also got $1,000 from another Midtown property owners, Cypress Realty. She received $1,000 from attorney Bonnie Miskel, who represents another Midtown property owner—Town Center Mall—and Elad Properties, which has applied to build the Mizner 200 condo project.

In the race for the open Seat B, Andrea O’Rourke continues to lead all three candidates, though her $72,000 total includes $25,000 in loans. Andy Thomson has no loans in his total of $55,000, and last month he received roughly twice as much as O’Rourke—$12,000 to $6,000. Emily Gentile has $53,000, more than half of that in loans. Gentile raised just $4,200 in December and January combined. The firefighters union endorsed all three Seat B candidates and gave each $1,000. Thomson got the endorsement of the Greater Boca Raton Chamber of Commerce and the group’s $1,000 donation.

Office of Inspector General website

At today’s county commission budget meeting, Inspector General John Carey will propose that the county allow him to hire 10 extra investigators and auditors over the next three years.

Ideally, the Office of Inspector General already would have the 40-person staff deemed adequate to oversee the county, the 39 cities, the Solid Waste Authority and the Children’s Services Council. That would happen if the cities were paying their share, as voters demanded seven years ago.

But 14 cities, including Boca Raton, sued over the method of payment. They lost at trial, but won on appeal, after which the county declined to take the case to the Florida Supreme Court. So either the cities pay voluntarily, the county pays or the office remains at just 23 positions.

Though Carey makes a persuasive case, the county has many budget demands. The cities’ resistance remains a throwback to the days of “Corruption County.”








Randy Schultz
Randy Schultz
Randy Schultz, a native of Hartford, Connecticut, has been a South Florida journalist since 1974. He worked for The Miami Herald until 1976 and for The Palm Beach Post from 1976 until 2014, where he served as managing editor and editorial page editor. Since 2014, he has written a politics blog, commentaries and other articles for Boca magazine. His writing has earned first-place awards from the Florida Magazine Association and the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors. Randy has lived in Boca Raton with his wife, Shelley Huff-Schultz, since 1985. His son, daughter-in-law and their three children also live in Boca Raton.

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