A group of at least 20 disgruntled former Trump Tower Tampa buyers plans to sue Donald Trump, accusing the New York tycoon of falsifying his role in the $300-million project that went bankrupt last year.
Trump misrepresented himself as a tower investor when he was only lending his name to the project in a licensing deal with Tampa Bay developer SimDag Robel LLC, said Kenneth Turkel, a Tampa attorney hired by some of the condo buyers.
Scores of buyers plunked down 20 percent deposits on units that ranged in price from $700,000 to $6 million. Developers didn't refund half the deposit money, and buyers aim to recoup losses from Trump though the courts.
"Buyers were never told about the confidential licensing agreement," Turkel said. "Would people have bought into the project if the name was SimDag Tower Tampa?"
Announced by Trump in February 2005 during a whirlwind stopover in Tampa, the skyscraper was supposed to be West Florida's highest and its 193 units the most luxurious in the region.
But as the real estate market tanked, developers could never find suitable financing. SimDag filed for bankruptcy in June 2008. A year later, Colonial Bank seized the 1.5-acre riverfront lot at 100 S. Ashley Drive.
Buyers in similar Trump licensing deals have filed lawsuits elsewhere. Seventy people who bought into Trump Ocean Resort, a never-built waterfront development in Baja California, have also dragged Trump to court. Plaintiffs allege the real estate mogul deceived them into laying down deposits on a project he was only lending his name to.
During the Tampa unveiling in 2005, Trump told the St. Petersburg Times that he had a "substantial stake" in the condo tower.
"I recently said I'd like to increase my stake but when they're selling that well, they don't let you do that," Trump told the newspaper.
But according to the licensing agreement with SimDag, Trump was to receive an initial $2 million licensing fee and then collect a percentage of the profits after the units sold.
Buyers included former Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin.
"This was a diverse group of successful people," Turkel said of his clients. "We're talking athletes, professionals and retirees."
The Trump Organization declined to comment on Turkel's accusations until the suit is formally filed.
In the Baja California and Fort Lauderdale suits, Trump insisted he had been upfront about licensing his name to the projects.
James Thorner can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3313.