Wednesday, May 15, 2024

The Lawsuits Against Al Zucaro

Zucaro’s history of financial woes

Al Zucaro, who is challenging Boca Raton Mayor Susan Haynie in the March 14 election and has criticized Haynie and the city council for what he considers poor management decisions, has been sued six times since 2007 in Palm Beach County for failure to repay loans or debt. The plaintiffs included investors, former in-laws and a mortgage and credit card company.

In 2007, Zucaro and World Trade Management, an entity related to his World Trade Center license, were sued for failing to pay back loans in 2003 from a company called DR Palm Beach, owned by Joseph Della Ratta. After a two-day trial in November 2009, Circuit Judge Don Hafele ordered Zucaro and World Trade Management to pay roughly $406,000. Zucaro appealed and lost.

According to the plaintiff’s lawyer, Zucaro has not paid the judgment. In an emailed response to a question about the judgment, Zucaro called Della Ratta a friend and said the two are in “positive negotiations. . . We have discussed the terms of a settlement, and we plan on working it out amicably.”

In 2010, Zucaro filed a motion seeking a protective order in the Della Ratta case. According to records, Zucaro worried about disclosure of information “related to Defendants’ financial records and conditions,” and claimed that the plaintiff’s attorney had threatened to “humiliate and embarrass” Zucaro and his wife, Yvonne Boice. They had married the year before. The judge directed that any information related to Boice remain confidential.

Della Ratta was not the only one who claimed to have lost money on Zucaro’s World Trade Center venture. In 2010, Nathan Schnurman sued Zucaro, World Trade Management and International Council of Advisors — another related entity — for failing to repay a $150,000 loan made in 2008. In the lawsuit, Schnurman alleged that Zucaro failed to disclose the Della Ratta lawsuit when seeking money from Schnurman. State records list Zucaro and Boice as agents of International Council of Advisors.

Schnurman’s lawyer, William Pruitt, told the Palm Beach Post that Zucaro pitched the investment as a “sure bet.” Zucaro denies that. When the deal went bad, Pruitt said, the semi-retired Schnurman had to sell his house because he had fallen behind on the mortgage payments.

Zucaro sought to dismiss the case on technical grounds. The judge dismissed one count but left the four others in place. A year ago, the parties reached a confidential settlement.

Zucaro married Boice about a year after his first wife, Maria Bello Zucaro, had died. In March 2010, Maria Bello Zucaro’s parents — Avelino and Caridad Novoa — sued Zucaro. So did Maria Zucaro’s aunt and uncle — Charles and Eva Hutton.

The plaintiffs claimed that they had loaned Zucaro a combined $40,000 — $25,000 from the Huttons and $15,000 from the Novoas — so Zucaro could buy property in the Georgia mountains. Zucaro, according to news reports, had been making only interest payments on the loans. After his wife died, the plaintiffs said, Zucaro had stopped making any payments.

Zucaro moved to dismiss the lawsuits, claiming that there was no written contract or evidence to show that the plaintiffs had made the loans. “I can’t believe he would do this to me,” Hutton, then 83, told the Palm Beach Post. “I’m upset. I’m hurt.” The Novoas’ son said the $15,000 was “a relatively large percentage of their savings. It’s very hard. They feel betrayed.”

According to the Post article, Zucaro offered to deed the property to the Huttons and the Novoas. He said they declined. Hutton said he wasn’t interested in taking over mortgage payments. The Novoas’ son agreed. “Are you kidding me?” he was quoted as saying. The article reported that the Novoas relied on Social Security and a small savings account.

In May 2010, Zucaro settled both cases. Court records do not give specifics. According to property records in Rabun County, Georgia, Zucaro bought the property in 2005 for $182,000. The property was in his name only. In May 2010, however, the property was sold for almost $206,000, and the names of the Novoas, the Huttons and Maria Bello Zucaro appear in the records.

Zucaro would not discuss the details. “There is a confidentiality clause in the settlement,” he said in an email. “This matter has been settled.”

In October 2010, BAC Home Loans Servicing filed a lawsuit to foreclose on Zucaro’s home in Jupiter. He had bought the property in March 2006 — just as the real estate boom began moving to bust — for $515,000.

Zucaro’s defense was to question whether he actually had signed the note. In October 2012, BAC was awarded summary judgment — basically winning on the facts without the need for a trial. In January 2013, the property was sold at auction for $207,000.

Finally, Citibank sued Zucaro in August 2011 for $30,300 in credit card debt. Zucaro sought to dismiss the case by claiming that a “statement is not an account.” In July 2013, Zucaro settled the case for $9,000.

I asked Zucaro if the lawsuits should be a campaign issue. He responded that I was “digging into issues that occurred 10 years ago during a time of economic challenges for all. . . The residents of Boca Raton want to hear about solutions to the challenges we face, not ‘gotcha campaigning’ and gutter politics.”

In fact, a review of Zucaro’s record is not “gutter politics.” He is seeking the most important elected office in Boca Raton, and if Haynie had such a record — which she doesn’t — he surely would make it an issue. Her voting record is an issue, and I will review that before the election.

One other point:

The loan that resulted in the $406,000 judgment dates to 2003, before the “economic challenges” that began in 2007. Zucaro also has regularly touted his business background. When he was up for a county economic advisory board in 2007, his bio called him “one of South Florida’s most captivating voices on international trade and commerce. . .” I asked Zucaro if he could cite an example of his World Trade Center venture producing a successful trade-related deal. He did not respond by deadline for this blog post. If he sends a response, I will report it. I will also review the record of the other mayoral candidate in upcoming columns.

Campaigns in full swing

You can tell that it’s election season in Boca Raton.

Tuesday morning, I was at the Starbucks in Mizner Park to meet Councilman Scott Singer, who’s running for re-election in Seat A. Inside at one table was Emily Gentile, who’s running to succeed Seat B Councilman Mike Mullaugh, with Anthony Barbar, chairman of the Florida Atlantic University trustees. Five feet away at another table was Andrea O’Rourke, who’s also running in Seat B, with two Boca residents.

Mullaugh endorsement

Speaking of Mullaugh, he has endorsed Gentile as his successor.

Mullaugh told me Wednesday that he considers Gentile the best-qualified because she has run her own business and served on many city and civic boards. Gentile, O’Rourke and Andy Thomson, the third candidate, approached Mullaugh directly or indirectly seeking his support. “I was going to just let it play out,” Mullaugh said, but he decided to go public because he believes that electing Gentile “is in the best long-term interest of the city.”

Misleading email

Sometimes, of course, candidates don’t tell the whole truth about endorsements.

O’Rourke sent out an email Wednesday touting her supposed endorsement by the city’s firefighter union. O’Rourke didn’t mention that the union has endorsed all three candidates in the Seat B race.

Candidate forum

The Federation of Boca Raton Homeowners Association will hold its candidate forum from 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. Monday night at the city’s municipal complex on Congress Avenue north of Yamato Road.

More troubling news for South Florida Water Management District

The South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD), the most important public agency in this area, is losing the department’s second-in-command.

Sources had told me that Assistant Executive Director Len Lindahl was leaving. A district spokesman confirmed that Lindahl will work for a Palm Beach Gardens company called Special District Services that “creates and manages special taxing districts” in Florida. These entities are different from counties and cities, but they levy their own taxes for specific purposes. One example is the Greater Boca Raton Beach & Park District.

If you wonder why I’m including this item, the water management district matters very much to everyone in this area. Without the flood control and water supply the agency provides, South Florida as we know it doesn’t exist.

Lindahl actually knows how the water management district works and has much related experience. Executive Director Pete Antonacci is a lawyer by training whom Gov. Rick Scott forced the district board to hire in late 2015 after the governor forced out Antonacci’s predecessor, who also was very qualified but dared to suggest that the Scott-ordered budget cuts could hurt the district.

Antonacci’s new priority is opposing a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee to which lake water could be released, thus sparking the St. Lucie estuary. U.S. Sugar, one of Scott’s patrons, opposes the reservoir. Lindahl’s departure means that the district has less engineering expertise. Politics has become the main qualification.

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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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