TRINITY - Lots of companies have come calling for payment for their work on the stalled Trinity Town Center. To emerge on top of the heap, Bill Planes' general contractor firm is suing nearly everyone involved in the construction - including his other company that owns the entire project.
South Capital Construction is asking a judge to order the sale of Trinity Town Center and give it first dibs on the proceeds.
That would allow South Capital to muscle its way to the front of the money line, ahead of the lender that holds a $47 million mortgage, the nearly 50 subcontractors owed millions of dollars for unpaid or partially paid work, and the owner of the project - Trinity Town Center LLLP, Planes' development company.
The lawsuit, filed in September in Pasco County, is the latest development that raises questions about the fate of the once highly anticipated Main Street-style shopping complex at Trinity Boulevard and Little Road.
Since the summer of 2008, the project has been mired in financial and legal problems, which set off publicly when subcontractors began complaining about bounced checks and lack of full payment for their work.
South Capital, which is responsible for paying the subcontractors, argues in its lawsuit that ultimately it is a victim of New Jersey-based lender Kennedy Funding.
Kennedy, the lawsuit argues, never fully funded Trinity Town Center. Trinity Town Center, in turn, could not fully pay
Kennedy still owes Trinity Town Center nearly $2.5 million, according to the lawsuit. Kennedy officials have said they didn't release certain funds because Trinity Town Center did not meet some contractual obligations.
South Capital, in its lawsuit, asks the court to order that the property be sold first to pay its lien, which was filed in July and totals $7.5 million.
Worth Blackwell, a St. Petersburg lawyer representing South Capital, did not return phone calls seeking comment.
But lawyers for some of the subcontractors - now defendants in South Capital's lawsuit - are crying foul.
Steel subcontractor GMF Construction says that the $2.5 million that Kennedy allegedly owes Trinity Town Center is still less than the $7.5 million worth of bills owed to subcontractors on the project.
"Therefore Plaintiff received funds for the project but failed to disburse them to GMF and other subcontractors," lawyers for GMF wrote in a Sept. 25 response to the complaint.
Mason company BlockBusters has asked the court to throw out the South Capital complaint, calling it a "collusive" action between South Capital and Trinity Town Center, which share the same officers.
Jawdet Rubaii, lawyer for BlockBusters, said in an interview that there are too many unanswered questions about what happened to the money that Kennedy did release to Trinity Town Center.
Kennedy released nearly $25 million to Trinity out of the $27 million it requested.
"Where'd the money go?" Rubaii said. "It sure seems like it needs to be investigated."
Rubaii said he worries that some of the smaller subcontractors on the project, particularly those who can't afford to hire lawyers, will lose out if they don't file a response in the case.
"I don't think they understand the significance," he said.
South Capital is going after Kennedy in Pinellas County, and Trinity Town Center LLLP is chasing the lender down in federal bankruptcy court, piggybacking onto an unrelated case.
Employees file lawsuit
Bill Planes, a businessman well-known in Tarpon Springs, is also facing other legal challenges. One of them? He and his wife, Regina, are being sued in federal court by six former employees of their Keystone Road veterinary clinic.
Those former employees say they routinely received paychecks that bounced, were not paid minimum wage in some cases and were not paid overtime.
In their August lawsuit, the former employees say that the clinic, called CVC Veterinary Centers, made a profit and should have had enough to compensate its workers.
But the lawsuit says Planes and his wife had debts related to their other companies, including Trinity Town Center and South Capital.
"William and Regina Planes directed the profits to pay other corporate and personal debts," the suit says.
In their response, the couple deny those allegations.
Jodie Tillman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6247.