Saturday, September 22, 2018

Excuses fly as Ruskin marina seeks payment from operator of dog-transport charity

TAMPA — A Ruskin marina owner wanted Albert Lonzo Adams III to pay up on a debt. That led to a lawsuit in Hillsborough County Court this year against the founder of the Soaring Paws dog transport charity.

But nothing has been easy for plaintiff Jason Barth of Shell Point Marina in his 10-month quest to get a day in court with Adams.

In April, someone claiming to be Adams’ son wrote court officials saying he was in a medically induced coma in Central America, undergoing stem cell therapy for brain cancer. In July, Adams, who is not in the military, wrote that he was getting "deployed overseas" and wouldn’t be back until October. In August, someone at the Adams home scrawled "not right person" on a piece of mail and returned it to Hillsborough County Judge Daryl Manning.

Barth says Adams, doing business as Soaring Paws, stiffed him out of more than $2,000 in 2016 by disputing credit card transactions legitimately owed for gas and boat storage.

Adams, who did not respond to a request for comment, faces bigger problems. The state filed seven felony charges against him Dec. 21, alleging he lied to Soaring Paws donors and misused some of their $140,000 in contributions, paying for liquor, furniture, restaurant tabs, his mortgage and credit card bills with money intended to transport rescue dogs to new homes. He was released on bail.

TAMPA BAY TIMES INVESTIGATION: SOARING PAWS

Hero in the sky, pet rescue pilot had troubles on the ground (March 7, 2016)

Tampa pet charity’s often repeated claim of a deep-pocketed benefactor raises questions (March 19, 2016)

State ratchets up probe of Tampa’s Soaring Paws charity, says pilot not cooperating (March 25, 2016)

Coveted airplane in Tampa pet charity’s GoFundMe campaign wasn’t even for sale (March 29, 2016)

Tampa-based pet flight charity now focus of criminal investigation, state says (April 23, 2016)

State: Soaring Paws rescue pilot lied to donors, misused funds (Dec. 21, 2017)

In his July letter, Adams told the civil court judge he doesn’t operate Soaring Paws and isn’t even a pilot. Images of him flying were staples of the Soaring Paws Facebook page from 2014 to 2016. State records show he rented airplanes, and the Federal Aviation Administration includes him in its list of registered pilots.

In April 2016, with the state investigation just beginning, Adams moved a 24-foot Glastron boat into the Shell Point Marina on the Hillsborough side of Tampa Bay. After pulling the boat out in the fall, Adams contacted American Express and reported the marina charges as fraudulent, Barth wrote.

Barth was stunned.

"In whose world do you dispute six months worth of credit card transactions," he said in an interview.

A deputy served the civil court summons in March to Adams’ home on Woods Landing Lane in Tampa. It’s the address he once used in corporate records for Soaring Paws and also the address in his FAA record.

Soon after the summons was delivered, court officials got a peculiar letter. The author, who called himself "Albert Adams," said he was headed to Italy that April 13 and wouldn’t be back until October. The letter wasn’t received by the clerk’s office until April 14.

"The person you are looking for is my father who currently is living in Central America, in a medically induced coma, receiving stem cell therapy for brain cancer," the letter stated, "so he couldn’t be present even under arrest."

In July, Judge Manning scheduled a final hearing on the matter for October.

A second letter arrived, this one signed with the Soaring Paws founder’s full name: "Albert Lonzo Adams III."

The judge’s office kept the envelope. The return label stated "Albert & Sharma Adams," with the address on Woods Landing Lane. Sharma Adams was an officer of the now-defunct charity, and the couple, married since 2004, were once its public face.

Adams mentioned nothing about a coma. He said he was the wrong person.

"Also, I do not do business as Soaring Paws Inc.," he wrote to the judge. "I looked that business up and it is a(n) aviation rescue charity and I am not a pilot, nor have I ever done business with the company or any person at Shell Point Marina."

Contact Patty Ryan at (813) 226-3382 or [email protected]

 
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