Legal wrangling around the sale of the State Theatre's concert business nearly three years ago may now threaten its liquor license.
The downtown venue at 687 Central Ave. with the Beaux-arts facade touts four bars in an event space for 700.
Now a lender says he holds a lien on the liquor license and hasn't received payments. He wants $150,753, plus interest, and asks for sale of the license to get it.
New owners say they had no idea the lien existed. It's not the deal's first ugly surprise.
Mere months after State Theatre Concerts bought the business from John C. Bodziak's State Theatre Inc. in 2007, the new owners sued him. Bodziak didn't actually own large chunks of what he had sold them, they said. The landlord did. They also claimed he didn't follow through on promises to help them start their business, and had instead out-bid them for musical acts.
They had already written a check for $227,772, nearly half the purchase price, and stopped making payments on the rest. The saga's still playing out in court.
Now Lou Campillo, one of the partners, says they were surprised by the fresh lawsuit filed last month claiming Bodziak's State Theatre Inc. stopped making payments on a lien against their liquor license.
In Florida, liquor licenses hold a market value and can be used as collateral for loans. In the 2007 sale, the license represented $250,000 of the $475,000 deal, according to documents filed with the court.
The recent suit names State Theatre Concerts as a defendant along with Bodziak and his defunct State Theatre Inc. The lender, Rudolph Hardick of Banana River Finance in Cocoa Beach, contacted the new owners before the suit was filed, Campillo said.
"We were shocked. We thought he was kidding," Campillo said. "We were told in writing the liquor license was free from any liens."
State records show two liens, a spokeswoman for the Department of Business and Professional Regulation says. The one named in the suit was recorded a few months before the sale, in favor of Banana River Finance to secure $150,000 to Bodziak's company. The second apparently secured the partial financing for the sale, $250,000 for Bodziak's company from the new owners.
Meanwhile, court records show Bodziak has refused to be deposed in the original suit amid other legal trouble, which includes grand theft charges last year by state investigators who said he owed $250,000 in sales taxes during his time as operator of Jannus Landing.
Hardick, the lender, says that while Bodziak stopped paying on the lien, he doesn't blame him. Bodziak stopped paying because State Theatre Concerts stopped its payments amid the legal mess, he says.
So Hardick faults the new owners. Whatever the sales agreement claimed, they could have easily learned of the liquor license lien, he says.
"They have always painted themselves as sort of the victim," Hardick said. "But they're the ones that are getting the proceeds from the business and not paying any of the debt."
He says he tried to negotiate with them, but they were unwilling.
"It could be the ending of the State Theatre, that's the bad part," Hardick said. "You couldn't run the State Theatre without having a liquor license."
The lawyer for the new owners, Ben Hillard, says additional documents will be filed in the case this week.
"Legally, I think we're in good shape," he said.
News researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report. Becky Bowers can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8859. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/bbowerstimes.