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Tampa City Council's newest member facing foreclosure

TAMPA — One of City Council's newest members is facing legal and financial difficulties that have resulted in foreclosure of multiple investment properties he owns.

Curtis Stokes defaulted on a loan from Progress Bank totaling $847,381, including interest, late charges and attorney's fees, court records show. He will be sworn in today to the citywide District 3 council seat.

The bank is set to sell the nine properties Stokes bought with the loans, located near Interstate 275 between downtown and Ybor City, at the courthouse on July 29.

Stokes, vice president of community affairs at Fifth Third Bank, said Wednesday the matter is no reflection on his ability to lead the city.

"I take care of my obligations," he said. "It's not an issue of I decided not to make the payments."

The problems arose, he said, after he sued the bank in January because a loan officer physically attacked him. In February, Stokes' loan came due and he and bank officials could not agree on refinancing terms, he said.

"We're in the throes of litigation," he said. "They are upset because of the lawsuit I filed."

An attorney for Progress Bank did not return calls for comment.

According to court documents, Stokes received a loan in June 2008 to buy the properties. It was renewed in August 2009.

Stokes said he went to the bank on Jan. 6 to make his December payment, which was a few weeks late.

As he left the bank, loan officer Eugene Roy Son jumped on his back and began choking him, according to court records.

Five days later, Stokes sued Son for battery and the bank for negligence. Son agreed to enter a misdemeanor diversion program in June, court documents show. He could not be reached Wednesday for comment. The negligence case against the bank is ongoing.

Stokes said when his loan came due in February, the bank offered to extend it for six months if he paid down 20 percent of the principal, or about $150,000.

"I did not have that amount at that time," he said.

Stokes said he asked the bank to negotiate the terms, but it refused.

Progress Bank, which has just two branches, got a zero-star rating in March from Bauer Financial, a Coral Gables bank rating firm. The bank had a two-star rating in the prior quarter.

The zero-star rating means the bank is "troubled and problematic" and facing "considerable challenges."

Stokes will serve as an interim City Council member, a job that pays $750 a week, until after the city's March 2011 election.

Council members selected him Monday to replace Linda Saul-Sena, who resigned abruptly from the council in June to run for the Hillsborough County Commission. They also selected Yvonne Yolie Capin to temporarily fill the District 4 seat that represents South Tampa. John Dingfelder vacated that post last month, also to run for the County Commission.

Council members chose their new colleagues after reviewing 66 applications and conducting two-minute interviews with potential candidates.

In a regular election, candidates file financial disclosure forms with the supervisor of elections.

But that information was not part of the application for interim council members. Stokes and Capin will submit the forms today.

Council member Joseph Caetano, who has faced foreclosures and the bankruptcy of his hair salon, said he would have backed Stokes even if he had known of his financial problems.

"It's not that he's a bad businessman. He's a good businessman. He's got an important job with the bank," Caetano said.

Foreclosures, he said, are a countrywide epidemic.

"No one's immune to it," he said.

Council Chairman Tom Scott said he doesn't know if Stokes' financial information would have affected his vote.

"I'm surprised by this given the fact of his experience in banking," he said. "However, I think that we're in a climate where we have a lot of foreclosures."

Still, Scott said it would have been better to have more information on all the candidates.

"The process is really kind of difficult when you've got 66 applicants and all you have is their application and two minutes for them to appear before you," he said. "What can a person say in two minutes? Come on."

Scott said he'd like to review the process for choosing replacements for council members so that future candidates can be better vetted.

"You want to know all the facts about an individual when you're making these kinds of decisions," he said.

Stokes, formerly head of the Hillsborough County NAACP, is also a member of the Tampa Hills­borough Expressway Authority. Gov. Charlie Crist appointed him to the post in August 2009.

State law does not require Stokes to resign from the authority now that he is on the council. Council Chairman Scott represents the city on the authority.

Times staff writer Nandini Jayakrishna contributed to this report. Janet Zink can be reached at jzink@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3401.

Tampa City Council's newest member facing foreclosure 07/22/10 [Last modified: Thursday, July 22, 2010 12:44am]

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