Nearly 20-year-old ties between District 9 congressional candidate John Dicks and a controversial financial adviser resurfaced Thursday after Dicks' opponent produced a New Jersey man who says he was bilked out of $55,000.
Giri Giridhar, 69, of Ridgewood, N.J., says he and his wife wrote two checks to Dicks — a financial adviser in the 1980s and 1990s who worked with controversial figure Charles Givens — under the assumption it would be the safest investment they ever made. Instead, Giridhar said, he never heard from Dicks again, and the money disappeared.
"If you invest any amount of money and the guy won't even return phone calls," Giridhar said. "You know something was wrong."
Giridhar, who told his story at the urging of Dicks' Democratic primary opponent, Bill Mitchell, is one of at least of four people who say they were cheated out of money by Dicks between 1986 and 1996. Three people, including Giridhar, settled their dispute during arbitration. One person settled in court.
Their stories aren't new; Dicks' financial dealings first came up during an unsuccessful run for the state Senate in 1996. But in a hastily arranged conference call with reporters Thursday, Mitchell said Dicks' previous business dealings remain relevant.
"As I've campaigned, I have come to realize more and more just how much we have to trust our congressmen," said Mitchell, who is running against Dicks and Anita de Palma in next weeks' party primary. The winner faces Gus Bilirakis, a first-term congressman from Palm Harbor.
Dicks called Mitchell's press conference call a "despicable" last-minute attack.
"I just am astonished that he would do such a thing, particularly in the 11th hour before an election. It's clearly indicative that he is desperate. He can't win on qualifications, he can't win based on experience or ideas and issues so he chooses to drum up matters that have been resolved and that are nearly 20 years old," Dicks said.
He called Mitchell "unethical" for raising the issue after being put on notice that a confidentiality agreement was in place on the lawsuit.
Dicks, 55, worked for Delta First Financial, an Orlando-area investment firm founded by Givens, and later gave speeches for Givens' how-to-get rich educational group. Dicks, however, said he was not party to Givens' well-known troubles.
In 1996, a California jury said Givens defrauded 29,000 customers and ordered him to refund $14.1-million. And Givens agreed to pay nearly $400,000 in refunds and costs in 1995 to settle the state of Florida's accusations of fraud and deceptive business practices.
"I was never the subject any securities investigation, never questioned as far as any regulatory agency at all," said Dicks, who sued the National Republican Senatorial Committee for airing ads in 1996 linking him to Givens.
Dicks, a business and real estate lawyer and former Plant City mayor, is seen as one of the Democrats' better hopes to pick up a House seat in Florida. Through June, he had raised $100,000 and lent his campaign $320,000.
District 9 spans parts of Pinellas, Hillsborough and Pasco counties.
Times staff writer Adam C. Smith contributed to this report, which includes information from Times files.