CLEARWATER — Joseph Erickson will have to wait at least two more months to learn if he’ll get back the $350,000 he invested in a gulf-front condo.
At hearing Wednesday, Pinellas County Circuit Judge Keith Meyer said he wants to hear factual evidence before deciding who is entitled to the surplus proceeds of a 2018 foreclosure auction at which Erickson was the winning bidder.
"I’m trying to be as fair as possible to all sides,'' Meyer said in setting a Jan. 24 date for what in effect will be a mini-trial. "You’re talking about the disposition of property, you’re talking about $350,00, which is not a minor sum. There have been very serious allegations set forth and it’s a serious matter.''
Erickson said he was disappointed nothing was settled at the hearing.
"I guess we have to keep the ball rolling,'' said the Land O’ Lakes fitness center owner who estimates he already has spent $40,000 on attorney fees.
The legal battle pits Erickson against a company called Locations of Pinellas, which said it received title in 2016 to a unit in the Happy Fiddler Condominiums in Indian Rocks Beach. The company defaulted on its dues, however, so the condo association obtained a judgment against it and a foreclosure sale was set for September 2018.
Erickson’s winning bid amount was deposited in the court registry. The association got its cut and Erickson thought the surplus — $350,000 — would be returned to him. Instead, Locations of Pinellas said it was entitled to the surplus because by law, any surplus goes to the defendant after a foreclosure judgment is satisfied.
"The main issue here is that Mr. Erickson failed to do a title search on the property before bidding,'' said John Beggan, the company’s attorney. Had he done so, Beggan said, he would have realized that Locations was the owner of record and that a bank had a $350,000 first mortgage on the property.
Erickson’s lawyer, though, argued that Locations’ claim to ownership was not valid because it had obtained title through a flawed process and possible "back-room deal'' with the condo board years ago.
"All they’re attempting to do is obtain a $350,000 windfall of money they’re not entitled to,'' attorney Melissa Giasi said.
Now that the condo association has its money, Giasi added, it has no objection to the surplus being released to Erickson. An attorney for the association confirmed that.
Giasi suggested that another bidder was connected to Locations of Pinellas and had run up the bidding so there would be a bigger surplus— and more money for Locations. She presented no evidence, however, and the judge said that was among the reasons he wanted both sides to lay out their facts at a later date.