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Carl Folkman is critical of county spending even as his finances include a bankruptcy attempt.
Published Jul. 13, 2010

Running for the Pinellas County Commission, Carl Folkman bills himself as the man to put spending under the microscope as the county wrestles with a deficit.

But Folkman, a wine and spirits broker, has amassed large debt of his own.

He faces three foreclosure actions against his 4,300-square-foot home and a rental property, both in Crystal Beach. He subsequently filed for bankruptcy, but that was dismissed June 18 because Folkman owed more than $1.7 million, which exceeds the $1 million limit allowed under the Chapter 13 process.

Three days later, speaking at a community forum in East Lake, he criticized the county's $80 million two-year deficit and the runup of spending before the economy soured.

"Ladies and gentlemen, the question you're asking is the question I'm going to be asking, too, as candidate. Where is it? Where is your tax dollars and where did it go?" Folkman said at the June 21 event.

Folkman is running against County Commissioner Susan Latvala and former Tarpon Springs Mayor Beverley Billiris in the Republican primary on Aug. 24. The winner faces Democrat Bob Hackworth, former mayor of Dunedin, in the Nov. 2 election.

In an interview, Folkman blamed the recession for hitting his wine and spirits brokerage. It also led to the May foreclosure of a mountain lot he owned in North Carolina.

He also blamed the banking industry, saying he stopped paying his mortgages because he'd "be d-----" if he'd "let the banks roll over me."

Folkman said the experience will help him better understand his future constituents.

"I have a better understanding of business even though I have gone through some troubles, because I have been a small businessman," said Folkman, 44. "I'm not a career politician."

Despite the debt above the $1 million in assets he described in his Dec. 20 bankruptcy filing with his wife, Ellen, a correspondent for the St. Petersburg Times, Folkman's financial disclosure in June listed a positive net worth of $41,620 as of Dec. 31.

In the election filing, he valued his properties at $300,000 more than in the bankruptcy. Folkman said he did so because he was following advice from the Property Appraiser's Office and an elections attorney.

Instead of the market value set by Pinellas officials, he used the higher comparable sales estimate. Private appraisals were used in the bankruptcy, he said.

Latvala, whose challengers have criticized her over the county's expansive spending during the real estate boom and current cuts, declined to comment on Folkman's troubles.

Billiris also didn't want to take shots at her opponent: "I can't beat Carl up because I was going through the same thing, although I was able to pull it out."

She and her husband have paid property taxes late each of the past three years.

Hackworth did use Folkman's troubles to make a point about his potential opponent.

"I think you also have to not just spout the rhetoric but also have a record," said Hackworth, who runs a publishing business.

Folkman said his financial problems started after he took out loans on the properties.

The foreclosure cases were filed between April and December 2009. J.P. Morgan Chase Bank alleged the Folkmans had been in default since July 2007. OneWest Bank claimed they hadn't paid since March 2009. Deutsche Bank claimed it hadn't been paid since August 2009.

Folkman said most of his problems stem from a $109,000 balloon mortgage payment due in January 2009 to the now-defunct IndyMac Bank.

Struggling to modify the loans, Folkman went through the office of U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young to get help from the U.S. Treasury customer assistance office. Folkman acknowledged he quit paying.

"It's a question of who blinks first," he said.

Folkman is now trying to work out payments to the banks.

"I'm doing the right thing," Folkman said. "What the county has done with the people's money is almost criminal."

Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.