TRINITY — Over the last three years, Trinity Town Center developer Bill Planes has faced numerous lawsuits from companies complaining about bounced checks and lack of full payment.
Now two bad checks have landed Planes in criminal court.
The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office on Friday arrested Planes, 69, on two felony counts of stopping payment with intent to defraud.
The charges are for paychecks for two employees of the Tarpon Springs Kennel and Veterinary Services, which Planes owned until March 2010.
Two employees, Melissa Perez and Melissa Disipio, tried to cash their paychecks in January 2010 (one for $1,295 and one for $1,148), according to a detective's affidavit. Both checks were returned for stop payment.
It was not the first time, wrote Detective David Kavanagh, who examined Old Harbor Bank records and learned that Planes had filled out the stop payment orders.
"They had problems in the past in which every time they would cash a check, it would come back for nonsufficient funds," he wrote. "They were told to hold onto the checks for a bit. They then stopped getting responses."
Planes could not be reached for comment Monday. In May, he was charged with two unrelated counts of issuing worthless checks, but prosecutors dropped those charges.
Planes is a Tarpon Springs businessman who made a name for himself when he started St. Nicholas Orthodox Christian School on Keystone Road and headed up the 100th Epiphany celebration in 2006. He then set his eyes on the Trinity area in southwest Pasco to build a Main Street-style shopping center.
All of this was a fresh start for Planes, who had served time in federal prison in the late 1980s after being convicted of embezzling more than $140,000 from a troubled Hollywood, Fla., mortgage company he had been hired to resurrect.
But Planes' projects here began to sour. Companies that worked on the school began to complain about a lack of payment. And since the summer of 2008, the Trinity Town Center project has been mired in financial and legal problems.
Construction has since halted, leaving a half-finished site at Little Road and Trinity Boulevard.
Planes is the key principal in both the company that owns the property and the general contractor on the Trinity project, South Capital Construction. Dozens of subcontractors, as well as the lender with a $47 million mortgage on the project, have sued Planes' companies for lack of payment.
Late last year, Pasco commissioners signed off on a deal to get Planes to improve the half-finished buildings or risk demolition. Planes has been cited by county building officials for 116 permits that expired in 2009.
The agreement requires improvements by certain dates. In exchange, officials agreed to drop an administrative complaint against Trinity Town Center for expired building permits and to cut the company a break on the due date for the $35,000 in fees Planes owes the county to extend the permits.
Planes met the December deadline to remove debris piles and construction equipment, said senior assistant county attorney Kristi Wooden.
His company is supposed to paint the unfinished buildings and remove visible tar paper by next Tuesday. "There's some work to be done," said Wooden. "But they have some time left. We're certainly hoping he'll meet the obligations."
Pinellas court records show Pasco County isn't the only government to which Planes owes money. The Internal Revenue Service in May filed nearly $193,000 in liens on his home for unpaid taxes dating from 2007 to 2009.
The IRS has also put a $35,539 lien on St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Parochial School for unpaid taxes from 2009.
Jodie Tillman can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 869-6247.