TRINITY — Bill Planes, the Tarpon Springs businessman who has spent years embroiled in legal battles over the failed Trinity Town Center and other troubled projects in north Pinellas, was arrested but quickly released this week as part of an ongoing dispute with a software company.
Planes' mug shot showed up on the Pasco County Sheriff's Office website Wednesday. The site described the charge as "felony contempt of court" because Planes had missed a Feb. 25, 2011, deposition and a Jan. 24 court hearing.
However, the 70-year-old was freed less than an hour after attorney Joseph Kenny filed an emergency motion to release him until the following day, when a hearing could be held to determine whether the contempt order was legal.
In the end, Judge Circuit Judge David Demers tossed out the order, which was signed by another judge.
"The motion (to hold Planes in contempt) was misleading and erroneous," said Kenny, who did not represent Planes in any other part of the case. "We don't have debtors' prison anymore."
The arrest stemmed from a 2007 civil complaint that Planes' company, South Capital Construction, filed against Xcelligent, a software company based in Orange County. South Capital said the company, which was hired to provide software that would allow remote access to job site information, failed to meet delivery deadlines. So South Capital ended the agreement. Xcelligent sued, saying South Capital owed them $97,500 for services rendered.
Demers ruled in Xcelligent's favor, granting a judgment for the full amount. Then came time to collect. Attorneys for Xcelligent filed papers telling South Capital to send a representative to a deposition to discuss the company's finances.
No one from South Capital attended. Xcelligent asked that the company be held in contempt. Demers granted it and ordered Planes, South Capital's CEO, to appear at a Jan. 24 hearing.
After he didn't show, a judge ordered Planes' arrest on March 21. Nearly four months later, Pasco deputies picked up Planes, who has an office at the site of the unfinished Trinity Town Center at 9040 Tryfon Blvd.
In his emergency motion to free Planes, Kenny argued that his client was never subpoenaed personally and thus couldn't be held in contempt for not appearing in court.
"There is simply no basis for his incarceration," he wrote. Kenny said later that the law used to arrest Planes applies in family law cases that involve delinquent child support payments.
"There are a host of opportunities and remedies to deal with this situation," he said. "They just weren't exercised here. The company tried to go straight from point A to point Z."
This isn't the first time Planes has been taken to jail.
In 2011, Pinellas deputies arrested him on two felony counts of stopping payment with intent to defraud. The charges, which later were dropped, were for bounced paychecks for two employees of the Tarpon Springs Kennel and Veterinary Services, which Planes owned until March 2010.
Planes served time in federal prison in the late 1980s after being convicted of embezzling more than $140,000 from a troubled Hollywood, Fla., mortgage company he had been hired to resurrect. He made a fresh start in Tarpon Springs, opening St. Nicholas Orthodox Christian School on Keystone Road and heading up the 100th Epiphany celebration in 2006. He then set his eyes on the Trinity area in southwest Pasco to build a Main Street-style shopping center.
But Planes' projects here began to sour. Companies that worked on the school began to complain about a lack of payment. And since the summer of 2008, the Trinity Town Center project has been mired in financial and legal problems.
Construction has since halted, leaving a half-finished site at Little Road and Trinity Boulevard.
Pinellas court records show the Internal Revenue Service filed nearly $193,000 in liens on Planes' home for unpaid taxes dating from 2007 to 2009. The IRS has also put a $35,539 lien on St. Nicholas school for unpaid taxes from 2009.
A handful of students met earlier this year in one of the completed offices of Trinity Town Center.