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Pinellas Housing Authority land purchase could yield commission for former board member

The Pinellas County Housing Authority wants to buy 13 acres on Lake Seminole for a housing complex for veterans.

It's bank-owned land, vacant after the demolition of the old Women's Hospital, and ripe for a deal since the $2 million asking price is half its last sales price.

The housing authority's $1.5 million offer for the property also is notable for another reason. It could result in a $45,000 commission to real estate agent J.J. Beyrouti, chairman of the Pinellas Republican Party.

A former authority board member, Beyrouti landed a piece of the deal after suggesting the land to board chairman Joe Triolo, a Republican precinct committeeman, the two men said.

Beyrouti's share would equal the commission earned by Roger Broderick, the agent for Cornerstone Community Bank, which took ownership of the property after a foreclosure.

Housing officials said they didn't see anything amiss with Beyrouti, a board member in 2008-09, handling the sale.

Beyrouti is providing advice on the sale and led the buyer to seller, Beyrouti and Broderick said.

"This is a good deal," said Triolo, adding that his political relationship with Beyrouti wasn't a factor.

But explanations for how Beyrouti gained a role — the agency already had a real estate firm — have been inconsistent or unclear.

In an e-mail Friday, authority executive director Debbie Johnson would not explain what services Beyrouti provided or why he was necessary for the deal, directing questions to Beyrouti and Broderick.

Triolo and Beyrouti said that Beyrouti contacted Triolo about the property in early April, receiving the okay to contact the seller. But e-mail between Johnson and Broderick's firm about the land date to January 2010 — a time gap Johnson declined to address, too.

Beyrouti said he previously might have suggested the land to the authority, knowing it was interested in more land. Beyrouti owns the Lakeview Park mobile home complex adjacent to the old hospital land.

The property, once slated for redevelopment, has been on the market for three years. Beyrouti himself rejected buying the property, he and Broderick said.

Triolo has spearheaded a push by the authority to add more housing, especially for veterans. Other leads on property weren't viable, officials said

The bank hasn't agreed to sell, sticking to its $2 million asking price.

The county property appraiser's office set the market value at nearly $1.1 million.

"They're a ways apart," Broderick said of negotiations between the bank and the housing authority.

The authority board — which also includes Republican committeeman Alan Swartz — has approved the purchase offers, subject to receiving a new appraisal. But board member Charles Samaha has criticized the deal, objecting to receiving documents on the deal only upon arriving at an April meeting, then having to vote.

Though Samaha has supported parts of the proposal, he complained about the "smell" of the deal in April. Samaha questioned Beyrouti's role, as well as buying the land before a cost estimate or plan to build housing was available.

This month, however, he said he wasn't as concerned about ethical issues with Beyrouti because a one-year federal limitation on doing business with past board members has passed.

But Samaha questioned the purchase price and priority placed on housing veterans over families or other needy groups.

"I'd like to know what it would cost to build something on there, and compare it to something that's existing," Samaha said. "Could we get more bang for the buck?"

David DeCamp can be reached at ddecamp@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8779. Follow him on Twitter with @DeCampTimes.

Pinellas Housing Authority land purchase could yield commission for former board member 06/06/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 7, 2011 12:27am]
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