TAMPA — Luxury hotelier Mainsail Lodging & Development has accused a former vice president of holding secret meetings and feeding confidential information to a bank in Puerto Rico that had invested more than $100 million to build a resort and marina on a tiny Caribbean island.
That executive, James Talton, is the founder of Pasco Sports and is working with baseball legend Gary Sheffield to raise $23 million to build and operate a massive youth baseball complex in Wesley Chapel.
Before he submitted a bid for the baseball complex in 2013, Talton had spent eight years working for Mainsail as project manager for the Scrub Island Resort in the British Virgin Islands. Mainsail subsidiary Scrub Island Development Group filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in November after the bank sought to have the resort placed in receivership.
In previous filings, Scrub Island’s attorneys alleged that the bank had illegal contact with a high-level executive through much of 2012. A complaint filed June 24 in conjunction with the bankruptcy case spells out the details of Talton’s alleged activities on behalf of the bank.
According to the lawsuit, bank officers “engaged in illegal, unauthorized, and clandestine communications and held secret meetings” with Talton to gain access to confidential information. It quotes from text messages and emails Talton allegedly sent from his private account. One email reads: “Ok. Sounds good. So, anything u get from my personal email … officially I never sent.”
Although Talton figures prominently in the lawsuit, he is not named as a defendant. He told the Tribune he wasn’t aware of it until it was brought to his attention by a reporter.
Talton said he was “put into a unique position of having fiduciary responsibilities to multiple parties including Mainsail Development, Scrub Island Development, FirstBank and even the BVI government.”
He said Scrub Island, which flies Marriott’s high-end Autograph Collection flag, was and continues to be a good project that was a victim of bad timing. “It began with a very sound business model and a very good partnership between Scrub Island Development Group and FirstBank. It is unfortunate that both parties and the project itself were victims of the global financial crisis, and the subsequent receivership, bankruptcy petition and claim are fallout from that crisis.”
Talton said the lawsuit provides one perspective; FirstBank’s response will provide a different viewpoint.
Mainsail executives say they fired Talton in early 2013. At that point he already was developing the proposal for the Pasco sports complex. This month, Pasco County commissioners gave Talton and Sheffield a 90-day extension to complete the financing arrangements for the Wiregrass project.
Mainsail made headlines this year after the successful launch of the Epicurean, a boutique hotel next to Bern’s Steak House in South Tampa. The Scrub Island bankruptcy has no effect on the Epicurean because they are under separate ownership and don’t share financing.
Robert Rocke, Scrub Island’s attorney, said Talton “definitely will be called as a witness” in the case.
“We feel confident about the allegations,” he said. “We will be able to prove the allegations at trial.”
FirstBank loaned Mainsail more than $100 million for the Scrub Island project. The bank filed a $119 million claim, which includes $60.6 million of secured debt, with the bankruptcy court. The lawsuit filed June 24 seeks to have the bank’s claim either reduced or disallowed entirely.
FirstBank attorney Keith Fendrick called the lawsuit “meritless” and said the bank would fully defend itself. The response is due July 24.