Hernando Beach businessman goes from maverick to mystery

HERNANDO BEACH — Until the federal agents came that morning seven months ago, people here didn't know much about the man in the big house on Gulf Winds Circle.

His name was David Young, they knew, and he was rich. The 49-year-old drove a convertible Jaguar and a Hummer H3. He cruised the bay in a 26-foot Sea Ray luxury boat and joined the yacht club. He took friends in champagne-stocked limousines to Tampa's finest restaurants.

The former Army Reserve lieutenant colonel told his new neighbors he owned a real estate investment business with a group of military buddies. Young, who entered the service as a teenager, had been a part-time soldier for 30 years and often mentioned his four tours "in the war on terrorism." People heard the stories: Green Beret, Bronze Star winner, Persian Gulf War hero.

Just months after he moved into his 5,197-square-foot home about two years ago, Young hosted a pair of fundraisers for U.S. Rep. Richard Nugent. He passed out fliers to the whole neighborhood.

Young oozed success. He always had.

At 21, he became one of New Hampshire's youngest state legislators. He later helped lead John McCain's statewide presidential campaign and attended both Bushes' inaugurations. On a visit to South Africa in 1988, he held Mother Teresa's hand.

Back then, many in New Hampshire thought he would one day become governor or a U.S. senator or, some speculated, the president of the United States.

His Hernando Beach neighbors were stunned when, on Sept. 7, those federal agents showed up at his house with bulletproof vests and guns and a pry bar. The authorities seized real estate and froze more than $15 million in cash, but they didn't charge him with a crime. Or explain why they'd come.

People here were bewildered. Young, who denied any wrongdoing, was a good father, a successful businessman, a decorated military officer.

What could he have possibly done wrong?

• • •

That question may eventually be answered in a federal courtroom. U.S. attorneys in Utah have sued Young to recoup millions of dollars they say stem from military contracting fraud. Young and his associates, the records say, became rich as they billed the Department of Defense for services never provided.

Since the case began, former friends, past clients and investigators have said Young was never the benevolent All-American military man he seemed to be.

For the past two decades, he has barreled through life as if the rules didn't apply. From girlfriends to business ventures to the Army, he pushed limits. Often, until they broke.

Sometimes, especially in the military, it earned him praise and promotions. Other times, it cost him clients, careers and friendships.

Former New Hampshire legislator Edward Densmore told a reporter in 1991 that Young showed considerable promise, but he added a caveat: "I expect he will continue to be a great contributor to the political landscape in New Hampshire and possibly elsewhere — if he doesn't go to jail."

As a young man, he had an auspicious start.

Born on Valentine's Day 1963, Young was raised in Alstead, N.H., population 2,013.

His mother worked in the hometown post office; his father, in a sheet metal factory.

Even as a boy, newspapers later chronicled, he was different. While other kids read comics, he immersed himself in Newsweek. By 15, he had become one of the youngest interns to work for the Republican National Committee. At 21, he was elected to the New Hampshire House of Representatives.

Young was ambitious, outspoken and, in his military uniform, looked like Clark Gable, minus the mustache. Reporters flocked and women swooned.

His message was simple: He hated taxes and loved his country. He made sure everyone knew it.

"He was so locked in," said Densmore, a Democrat. "He didn't let much get in his way."

Young, a maverick before the term came into vogue, thrived on confrontation and was hell to negotiate against.

After a 1990 argument in the lobby of the state's legislative office building, Young bet a much-respected Republican colleague $100 that he had a better voting record. Yelling, the man had called him a "grandstander" after Young missed a vote while giving a television interview. Young insisted he had skipped fewer votes than his accuser. So, they checked the record. Young lost by one.

His boldness went beyond politics.

In one five-year stretch as an elected official, he picked up eight traffic tickets, mostly for speeding. He was deemed a habitual offender and temporarily lost his driver's license.

Single and popular with women, Young also gained a reputation as the House playboy.

Youthful exuberance, said his supporters, and nothing inexcusable. Certainly, they said, he would grow out of it.

• • •

Young's political career peaked on May 9, 1991.

That was the day before the Army announced accusations that he had taken military vehicles in the Gulf War, then lied about it. Young fought the allegations, saying he had borrowed the vehicles to lead a dangerous mission. He was cleared and, actually, promoted.

An Army official later commended him for his "great creativity, resourcefulness and the ability to bend every rule." He was dubbed "the Ollie North of New Hampshire."

The incident, some believe, only made him more popular. The maverick just being a maverick. A state magazine featured his photograph aside the word "HERO."

But within months, Young had sued the Boston Globe for reporting that he and others had misled New Hampshire businessmen and Albanian officials in a housing construction scheme. The newspaper corrected a portion of the story four years later and settled the suit out of court.

Amid the litigation, the Union Leader in Manchester, N.H., reported, Young had left a message on his own answering machine directed at one of the story's authors: "In 2,000 years, this is all going to be done, so lighten up. Except Gary Ghioto of the Boston Globe. It's going to be a long life, Gary. It's only a matter of time."

Despite the eventual correction, people who knew Young at the time say the damage to his reputation was done. He walked away from a potential run for Congress in 1992.

Young, though, soon had a new plan.

• • •

In the mid 1990s, he earned a law degree and passed the New Hampshire bar.

For a time, his life seemed back on track. He started his own practice and was re-elected to the state House in 1999. Someday, Young told people, he would still be governor.

But almost immediately, he crossed the ethical boundaries of his new profession.

The problems appeared unintentional at first. Clients accused him of billing errors and mishandling their money. Then, in 2005, after picking up three reprimands and a $20,000 fine, Young faced allegations of "immense misconduct," as one investigator described it.

He had represented a female caregiver who allegedly had been attacked and sexually assaulted by a patient, court records state. Young misused his client's settlement money, got fired, then falsely accused her of lying about the assault's sexual nature.

In 2006, he was disbarred.

Young's name then surfaced in a 2008 investigation of another lawyer.

By misadvising their clients and then trying to cover up their mistakes, Young and his law partner violated at least six rules of professional conduct in categories that included competence, diligence, communication, conflict of interest, deceit and coverup, according to a New Hampshire conduct committee.

Their clients, Michael and Elena Abbene, said Young blamed his partner and insisted they sign a document stating he wasn't at fault. They didn't.

Young told the Tampa Bay Times he had little involvement in the case.

Elena Abbene said, "He's the most dishonest person I ever met. I couldn't believe the lengths that this man would go to cover his tracks and to turn it around that you were the person that did something wrong. He was the devil incarnate."

• • •

Cecilia Sardina met Young in law school. He was handsome, romantic and wrote her sweet notes. She said they dated for four years.

During that time, she later learned, he had another girlfriend. In fact, a half-dozen women who had dated or been engaged to Young said they discovered he was also dating someone else.

When he said he was at military training, several women said, he was often with one of the others. After they caught him, he pleaded for forgiveness, bought them nice gifts and swore it would never happen again.

"I can't think of a girlfriend who would have said something negative about me," Young said.

Why he lied, several women said, they didn't understand. Some say he did it to control them, others say it was for the thrill.

"His true passion is just seeing how much he can get away with," said Melissa Cadreact. She said they dated off and on for three years.

Before one weekend trip to Boston, she said, Young stopped at nearby Fort Devens and insisted she come inside with him. He introduced her to his men, then stepped away. Cadreact said she later discovered that, as the soldiers ogled her, Young had used an office to call another girlfriend. And his men knew it.

"Lieutenant," one of them said as the couple left, "you are my hero."

• • •

Hernando County gave Young a fresh start when he moved here about three years ago.

Just months earlier, the military had accused him of taking a pair of Navy Humvees in Afghanistan without permission. For 24 days, Young had remained silent as authorities conducted a nationwide search for the vehicles. At his court-martial, Young's attorney argued he had done it to protect his men. A jury found him guilty.

But in Florida, people didn't know about his past problems. This was a place to make new friends and good impressions.

At first, he did.

Young met 29-year-old Ashley Speck, a beautiful blond from Tennessee. They got engaged. He began attending Spring Hill First United Methodist, a place where the county's political elite mingle on Sundays.

He also threw those fundraisers for Nugent, whose three sons are in the military. Young and his business associates, records show, contributed nearly $30,000 to the campaign.

"He seemed like a nice guy," Nugent said. "We had a connection because of his military background, obviously. I tend to trust guys like that."

Nugent didn't see it then, but neither did most people here. Young was the maverick.

Now approaching 50, he is potbellied and square-shouldered and, at times, so intense he gives people chills. In conversation, he's frenetic. He speaks with the pace of an auctioneer and the conviction of a Baptist preacher, just more profane. He interrupts to disagree. He points, sometimes pokes, to emphasize.

People who had rented the homes Young's company bought in Hernando say they saw that intensity. He could be abrasive, they say, even frightening.

In mid 2010, Cheyenne Sellers and Taylor Hunnicutt complained of maintenance issues and, they said, were abruptly told Young planned to evict them. Sellers, now 22, panicked and called him.

"This is David Young," she recalls him saying, "and you have no idea who the f--- you're messing with."

Sellers sobbed hysterically. Young, she said, kept screaming.

"I'm going to ruin your life … You're f------ done."

Hunnicutt's stepfather is Jimmy Brown, a well-known Brooksville lawyer. Young, he said, accused the kids of throwing loud parties.

The exchanges grew more confrontational.

"Rich Nugent is a very close friend of mine," Brown said Young told him, "and all it will take is one phone call and you'll be getting your kids out of jail."

Nugent called Young's supposed attempt to leverage his name "a bunch of B.S."

"The guy," he said, "has no pull at all."

On Sept. 3, 2010, just three hours after Young emailed Brown accusing his wife, Catie, of harassing one of Young's employees, her phone rang.

"I don't give a f--- who your husband is," the anonymous caller said, according to a Hernando County Sheriff's Office report. "I'll take care of you and your family by any means necessary."

The Browns told Hernando investigators they did not know the caller but were convinced it stemmed from their dispute with Young. Young denied making the call, the sheriff's report states, and a deputy determined no crime had been committed.

• • •

Today, David Young's future is uncertain.

In September, those federal agents raided his home because they are investigating a $54 million scheme to defraud the U.S. military, court records recently revealed. The documents allege that, beginning in 2007, Young used his position with the Army to steer military contracts to his friends, then helped devise ways to charge the Department of Defense millions of dollars for work that was never done.

Since the raid, Young has declined to answer specific questions about his role in the investigation but has insisted he committed no fraud. Much of the information contained in the Utah court documents, he also said, is outdated and will eventually be proved false.

Federal investigators, he added, have not allowed him to take a polygraph test, despite his repeated offers to do so. If they did, Young said, he's certain that would prove his innocence. Young has blamed any problems on "third parties" over whom he has no control.

But court documents allege that Young ran businesses that benefited from unfulfilled contracts and that he recruited friends to help him. Young's fiancee, Speck, a veterinary technician, became the director of human resources at two of his firms. Richard Brothers, a longtime political ally of Young's in New Hampshire, was named president at one. Christopher Harris had known Young since they served together in Special Forces years ago. Court records allege he was a chief co-conspirator in the fraud.

Brothers, who did not respond to requests for an interview, received more than $400,000 from the scheme, court documents filed in Utah allege. He was a consultant to Jon Huntsman's presidential campaign before being dismissed in December because of his connection to the investigation of Young, senior Huntsman officials confirmed.

On May 15, 2011, four months before the raid in Hernando Beach, three men came to Harris' home in Arizona. The men, a police report stated, dragged Harris outside, beat him, then threatened to shoot him. Harris told investigators the men demanded money. The attack, he speculated, was a case of mistaken identity.

But in an email and phone call to his ex-wife, Trissie Cox, Harris said his partner in Afghanistan had orchestrated the attack. And, he added, she could also be in danger.

"Be careful," he wrote in the email. "Partner plays dirty, too."

Information from the Associated Press, the Union Leader and the Boston Globe was used in this report. Times photographer Will Vragovic and researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this report. John Woodrow Cox can be reached at jcox@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1432.

Hernando Beach businessman goes from maverick to mystery 03/31/12 [Last modified: Sunday, April 1, 2012 2:31am]

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