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Bilzerian neighbor: FBI has my money

A friend and neighbor of convicted felon Paul Bilzerian is demanding the FBI return the cash it took from his home in a June 11 raid.

All $69,060 of it.

Ford dealer Ernest B. Haire III has asked the U.S. District Court in Tampa to make the FBI return the funds, which were taken from a safe. His motion, filed Wednesday, said the government has no proof the cash is connected to Bilzerian.

Both men's homes were searched the morning of June 11 as part of an apparent criminal investigation into Bilzerian, an ex-corporate raider who served prison time in the early 1990s and is back again on a contempt-of-court charge. Most other items seized from Haire's home, including documents and two rifles, already have been given back.

"They're trying to intimidate anyone and everyone who has an association with Paul Bilzerian," said Haire's attorney, Christopher Kise. "They want Paul Bilzerian."

Haire and Bilzerian are more than neighbors in Tampa's exclusive Avila neighborhood. Haire is a trustee of a 1994 trust that Bilzerian and his wife, Terri Steffen, set up for their two children. Until recently, he also held about 600,000 shares of stock in Cimetrix Inc., a Salt Lake City company Bilzerian headed until entering prison in January.

As part of a move to freeze the Bilzerian family assets, the Securities and Exchange Commission seized the shares held by Haire last month. It also took Cimetrix shares held by other Bilzerian family-related entities, including one called the Loving Spirit Foundation.

Haire has had previous brushes with the law. According to information from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, he has been arrested at least seven times over the years for alleged crimes including throwing a deadly missile at an occupied vehicle, resisting arrest and driving while intoxicated. Kise, Haire's attorney, said his only convictions were "traffic-related."

Haire declined to be interviewed Thursday. But in a recent conversation, he said he became friendly with the Bilzerians in the late 1980s. He also expressed concern for Steffen, who had arrived shaken at his home after the raid.

"I feel that the SEC and the government have been after Paul for many, many years," he said. "When the government wants someone, no rock will be unturned."

_ Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Scott Barancik can be reached at (727) 893-8751.