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Hillsborough may renew bid to collect debt

Hillsborough County officials are considering going after New York real estate investor Steven Green as part of a renewed effort to collect $1.29-million in code enforcement fines on the abandoned Amberwood Apartments.

Green and his attorneys have repeatedly denied he is responsible for the fines because he technically does not own the apartments. They are owned by one of Green's companies, Amberwood Realty, which has nominal assets after a foreclosure on the 212-unit complex.

But according to documents obtained by the St. Petersburg Times last week, Green listed the Amberwood Apartments as a personal asset on a financial statement submitted to First Union National Bank when applying for a $9.04-million mortgage in May 2001. The apartments were part of $65.7-million in real estate investments shown on the statement.

Green also listed $5.5-million in personal real estate, $1.6-million in cash, a pair of Cessna Citation jet airplanes worth $5-million and a collection of luxury and collector cars valued at $600,000. Green put his net worth at $34.5-million.

The Yonkers businessman followed up the financial statement with a letter stating that he had no partners in his apartment holdings and that "all assets listed in this statement are those of Steven Green."

That disclosure now has the county attorney's office investigating the possibility of legal action against Green himself for the unpaid fines at Amberwood.

"We'll have to put our heads together and look at the law concerning piercing the corporate veil as to going after Mr. Green," said Assistant County Attorney Kenneth A. Tinkler.

This week, Tinkler sent a demand letter to Amberwood Realty, in care of Pinellas attorney Glenn Goldberg, for $1,299,500 in fines and $1,754.22 in administrative costs. The letter warned that failure to pay within five days would result in "immediate commencement of legal action."

Green's Pinellas County attorney said Thursday that "Amberwood is a corporate obligation," and not any personal responsibility of Green.

"Any insinuation that he is obligated is ludicrous," Goldberg said.

The Amberwood Apartments first made headlines in April 2002, when county inspectors found hundreds of code violations, from exposed wires to disconnected fire alarms. Calling living conditions "deplorable," the county padlocked the apartments on Oak Rose Lane, just west of Interstate 275 in north Tampa. About 150 tenants were forced to seek new shelter. The Amberwood code enforcement case, with fines of $5,000 a day, became the largest in Hillsborough history.

Green, who signed for the First Union loan as president of Amberwood Realty, began missing mortgage payments the same month the county closed the apartments. Seven months later, Wells Fargo Bank Minnesota, which had taken over the loan from First Union, filed a suit to foreclose on the apartments. A judge has scheduled a public auction of the apartments to pay outstanding debt on July 30.

Green obtained the $9.04-million loan on Amberwood based on an $11.3-million appraisal of the apartments. That value, in turn, was based on a series of renovations Green estimated would cost $2.39-million, according to a document he submitted to First Union.

The list of renovations included new roofs, repaired gutters, new windows, lighting, fencing, a well, a lift station and carpeting and kitchen remodeling in each unit.

County records show permits were obtained only for roofing.

"There is an August 2000 permit for roofing," said former Community Improvements Department director Don Shea, now an official in the county's solid waste department. "But he did not get permits for all the renovations he said he was doing."

"That's news to us," said Goldberg. "As far as we knew, the contractors all represented that they had obtained the appropriate permits."

First Union raised a question about Green's finances several months after the Amberwood loan, according to bank records. In a reply to a bank officer, Green wrote: "Clearly my net income (before depreciation) of approximately $3.8-million puts me far from "stretched.' "

Green is a former delicatessen worker who made a fortune in real estate in New York but ran afoul of regulatory authorities there. Since 1991, the city of New York has sued Green and his realty company more than 40 times to correct thousands of code violations.

In that time, said New York housing spokeswoman Carol Abrams, the city has tried unsuccessfully to collect more than $2.27-million in fines from Green.