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Developer files for Chapter 11 protection

Hernando County architect and developer William L. Stoops, who has developed several small strip centers in the county, has filed for personal bankruptcy.

Stoops filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection from creditors Feb. 22 at U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Tampa.

In an interview from his office Wednesday, Stoops said he filed for bankruptcy protection because the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC), acting as receiver for the former Florida State Bank, has a mortgage claim of $480,500 against him.

Stoops said the FDIC is mistaken and that he doesn't owe the money. A lawyer representing the FDIC said otherwise.

"It's an upsetting thing," Stoops said. "It certainly will have an effect on my businesses."

The $480,500 claim from the FDIC concerns a 27,000-square-foot strip center on the State Road 50 truck route in Brooksville called the Candlelight Center. More than half of the center is vacant.

Stoops and his former business partner, Spring Hill builder David Lee, built the center in the late 1980s; they took out a $1-million mortgage from the former Holiday Bank to do so.

Holiday Bank was later declared insolvent and was taken over by Florida State Bank, which assumed the mortgage on Candlelight. Then, Florida State Bank went belly up and the mortgage ended up in the hands of the FDIC.

Last year, the FDIC foreclosed on the struggling Candlelight Center and obtained a judgment of $1.13-million against Stoops. The FDIC said it would credit the value of the center against the $1.13-million, leaving Stoops with a $480,500 debt to the agency, which disposes of the assets of failed financial institutions.

But Stoops said he doesn't owe the money because he deeded over his interest in Candlelight to David and Linda Lee in 1989 as part of a property trade. He said the FDIC also gave assurances that it would not pursue a deficiency judgment against him.

"I feel they're giving me a screw up," Stoops said.

Bradenton lawyer David Tipton, who is representing the FDIC, said the FDIC never agreed to not seek a deficiency judgment against Stoops.

"The bottom line is . . . the judgment is final," Tipton said. "It's not a question of, "Let's fight about whether the money is owed.'

"

For now, at least, the FDIC will not be able to press its claim against Stoops because of his bankruptcy filing, which protects him from all claims by creditors until he can reorganize his finances under a plan approved by the court.

As for David Lee, the FDIC was unable to collect any money from him because he filed for bankruptcy protection in August 1991. At the time, Lee blamed his financial problems on a tax dispute with the IRS. His reorganization plan was approved, but is being challenged in federal court by the FDIC, which is seeking $320,000 from Lee in connection with Candlelight and another shopping center he developed, Sun Plaza, at 4003 Mariner Blvd.

Lee, who was at Stoops' office Wednesday to answer a reporter's questions on the Candlelight mortgage, emphasized that his financial problems are behind him. He denied owing the $320,000 and echoed Stoops' claim that the FDIC had misled them.

Lee has been completing homes left unfinished by Springwood Homes and Andres Home Corp.

In addition to Candlelight, Stoops and Lee developed several centers together, including Midway Plaza on Cortez Boulevard, and Northwoods of Hernando, Guido's Plaza and Winchester South Shopping Center, all on U.S. 19.

Stoops still owns Northwood, where his office is, and co-owns Midway Plaza with Lee.

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