Less than three weeks before the deciding moment of his fledgling political career, Republican Carlos Beruff is being drawn into a new lawsuit that alleges his home construction company pocketed thousands of dollars of deposits and violated federal housing regulations.
Beruff said the disgruntled customer who filed the suit knows he's in the homestretch of a campaign.
"It's all garbage," Beruff said. "Give me a break. This guy figures I am running for the United States Senate."
On Tuesday, Sarasota resident Conrad Zarris had his attorney file a lawsuit in the 12th Judicial Circuit in Manatee County. It says that Beruff's company, Medallion Homes Gulf Coast, refused to refund a $42,590 deposit he put down on a home he ultimately did not buy — a contract violation.
The lawsuit also says Medallion forced Zarris to use a specific title insurance company last year that is also owned partly by Beruff. That relationship was never disclosed, the suit charges. If true, that would violate federal rules that require home sellers to disclose their business interests when they refer a customer to a lending company or title company that is affiliated with them.
Peter Logan, president of Medallion, said that if Zarris couldn't get the financing for the home, he would have gotten the deposit back. He lost the deposit because Zarris, a real estate sales professional, failed to close on the property within 60 days even though he had been approved for financing, Logan said.
Zarris entered into a contract with Medallion on Oct. 26 for the home. On Jan. 22, Medallion sent Zarris notice that because he hadn't closed, the company would keep his deposit.
Logan said the relationship between Medallion and the title company was fully disclosed, in writing, and there are signed documents to prove it. He said Zarris was never required to use Sun Coast Title Co.
Beruff said in a separate interview that everything Medallion does is properly disclosed.
"We have forms for everything," Beruff said. "I'm 58 years old. I've been around this game for a long time."
But Dan McKillop, the Sarasota lawyer representing Zarris, said there was no disclosure "at the time of the referral" to Sun Coast — a key point he said the case will show.
He also disputed Beruff's claim that the lawsuit was filed because of his campaign for the U.S. Senate. On Aug. 30, Beruff is challenging U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio for the Republican nomination.
"There is no political motivation," said McKillop, who noted he is a Republican.
Zarris, a registered Republican in Sarasota County, referred all questions about the case to McKillop.
McKillop said when he made his initial inquiries into Zarris' case, he did not know Beruff was even running for office.
Times staff writer Steve Contorno contributed to this report. Contact Jeremy Wallace at email@example.com or (850) 224-7263. Follow @jeremyswallace.