PALM HARBOR — Bill Hussey said he was grateful when Joseph Pursley volunteered in early May to be treasurer of the Eagle's Reserve Homeowners Association board of directors.
But within days, Hussey, who is also on the board, read a newspaper story detailing Pursley's past. The article noted the findings of a committee of the Michigan Bar Association, which had cited Pursley's "frivolous, cavalier approach to other people's money.''
After reading the article, Hussey said he suggested that Pursley "quietly resign.''
Now the board is split on what to do about their ninth board member — ask Pursley to resign or ignore the issues raised in the May 18 article in the St. Petersburg Times.
It described how Pursley's past had not hindered his entry into the student loan business. In 1999, Pursley had sought to practice law in Michigan. Pursley had $2.8-million in unpaid bills and convictions for resisting arrest and public drunkenness. The state denied his application after the Bar's committee on character and fitness described him as someone who "acts so recklessly with his money, his investors' money and with his debtors.''
Pursley moved to Florida and started a business consolidating student loans. By the end of 2006, his firm was handling loans worth almost $23-million. In May 2007, federal agents carted away box after box of documents from Pursley' firm after allegations of forged electronic signatures on student loan applications.
A spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Education Office of Inspector General did not return calls seeking details on the status of the investigation.
Pursley's past does not faze some members of the Eagle's Reserve board.
Board secretary Cindy Maslo said Pursley, her neighbor, is a patient, helpful man who has already noted some discrepancies in the board's finances.
"Those that are throwing stones ought to be looking at other people as well," she said.
The Times reached five of the nine board members, three of whom said they support Pursley. All described the board as evenly split on the question of whether he should stay on.
Pursley told the Times the matter was private and would not comment further.
Pursley told the board members that he had moved from Michigan, got lucky in the student loan business and had made a fortune, according to member Todd Nelson.
"He's a smooth operator," Nelson said. "He told us the best truth."
Several homeowners, Nelson said, have expressed concern in e-mails to him. He added that he has been unable to reach Pursley since the Times story ran.
Hussey said the homeowners' association is stable and doesn't need more bad press. In 2004, Eagle's Reserve filed Chapter 11 protection and reorganization amid controversy over alleged construction defects.
(Although the homeowners' association goes by the name Eagle's Reserve, the sign outside the development says Nature's Watch.)
Maslo said the treasurer's primary duty is to develop a budget with the management company for Eagle's Reserve. The treasurer position doesn't have direct control of funds.
"I don't have a problem with it," she said. "I feel that a person is innocent until proven guilty."
Jackie Alexander can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4167.