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Man who claims he'll buy, restore Biltmore has questionable past

BELLEAIR — This weekend, Thomas Gavin was anything but shy.

He fired off an e-mail to Belleair Mayor Gary Katica in which he introduced himself as the "next and final owner" of the Belleview Biltmore.

He boasted that he had enough money to purchase and restore the historic hotel and golf course.

And he requested a phone meeting with Katica, and the mayor and town manager made it happen Monday morning.

But now that Gavin's name has surfaced as a possible buyer of the Biltmore, he seems to have retreated out of the spotlight.

The callback number he typed in the message to Katica goes to voice mail. Messages to the same e-mail address he used to solicit the mayor barely elicit a response.

"I am ready, willing and able to proceed with the purchase," he said in an e-mail late Tuesday to a St. Petersburg Times reporter. "I will get back to you shortly."

• • •

Gavin's life story is full of questions and gaps.

It's not clear where he lives. He has numbers and addresses in Chicago, Killeen, Texas, Hollywood, Fla., and Pinellas County.

He told town officials he was in Chicago, but called them from a Broward County telephone number.

He said he was the chairman of Lifestone Capital Corp., but the state has no record of the company and there is no website.

During the Monday morning call with Katica and Town Manager Micah Maxwell, Gavin said construction runs in his blood.

"He mentioned that his family was in construction for a number of years," Maxwell said Tuesday. "He didn't specifically say the name of the construction company."

It was one of several omissions during the 15-minute call.

Maxwell said Gavin didn't talk about his portfolio of previous projects or discuss how he planned to pay for the Biltmore's restoration.

Maxwell and Katica didn't press him.

"It was a lot of him introducing himself," Maxwell said. "He said he was intending on buying a house in the area."

If town officials had probed Gavin, this is what they would have learned:

• He filed for bankruptcy in the early 1980s.

• He has ties to a couple of Broward County development and home design companies that have been subjects of lawsuits and liens as recently as 2008.

• He is connected to a religious organization called the Christian Millenium Group Inc. and is listed as a pastor. The group is listed as inactive in Florida corporation records and has a Pinellas County phone number but a Chicago Heights, Ill., mailing address.

Miami investor Daniel Ades, another prospective buyer, said he wasn't fazed by Gavin's promises to officials.

"We're under contract and we're doing our due diligence," Ades said. "If we decide to go forward, we have the right to go forward."

Asked if Gavin's claims about signing a contract this week were true, Joe Penner, spokesman for the owner, Latitude Management Real Estate Investors, said he couldn't comment yet.

The mortgage holder, Urdang & Associates, was just as mum.

"Our policy is to not comment on these matters and unfortunately, that's all I can say," Vincent Sanfillippo said. "If and when I can (comment), I will."

Katica said he's wary about Gavin's commitment to being a good neighbor and protecting the hotel and golf course.

"I hope that it's legit because it's everything we want," Katica said. "Until I see boots on the ground and a signed contract, it means bubkes."

Times researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this report.

Man who claims he'll buy, restore Biltmore has questionable past 10/26/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 26, 2010 8:52pm]

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