By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The Government has been urged to probe an alleged Bahamas-based real estate fraud that one victim claims is continuing, despite he and others last week winning a $94,000 judgment in the north Florida courts.
John Brier, a US citizen who has led a four-strong group seeking to recover their ‘investments’ in Long Island real estate, said the principals behind the scheme were still promoting it worldwide via e-mail and other electronic means.
Mr Brier sounded the alarm after a Canadian citizen sent him a March 1, 2017, e-mail received from Albert Jansen, a resident of Coral Gables, Florida, the same person who solicited his own investment in a Long Island lot.
In the e-mail, which has also been seen by Tribune Business, Mr Jansen describes himself as a director of Long Island Investments, which is also the same company involved in Mr Brier’s case and court judgment.
Writing to the Canadian citizen, Mr Jansen says Long Island Investments needs to borrow $20,000 to close on “a major development” on the Bahamian island, and asks to borrow this sum.
“I am a director of Long Island Investments Ltd, a major owner of real estate in the island of Long Island, Bahamas,” Mr Jansen writes.
“Our company is in the process to start a major development in the island, for which we have already the investors and financing.
“However we are missing a small amount for the closing costs of the operation: $20,000.”
Mr Jansen then asks to borrow this sum for 120 days, promising that Long Island Investments will return $30,000 to the investor - a 50 per cent return within four months,
“This will also open the door for the financing of the sales of lots when we start to place them in the market,” Mr Jansen added.
“As guaranty of the loan we will place as collateral our lot 73, a one-acre beachfront lot in Long Island. This lot has an appraisal of $ 210,000.
“Similar lots (smaller in size) are also marketed for $210,000 in Stella Maris, in walking distance from our lots.”
Noting the similarities between this ‘sales pitch’ and how he was enticed into purchasing a Long Island lot by the same person and company, Mr Brier urged the Government to probe Long Island Investments and its ‘project’.
He warned that the Bahamas, and its integrity as a safe destination for real estate investment, was under threat as a result of this scheme and others like it, as “a lot of people are getting hurt” - mainly foreign investors.
Mr Brier told Tribune Business: “I would encourage the Bahamas to continue to look into this. I would specifically ask them to look into the e-mail going out on behalf of Long Island Investments, saying there was an approved project seeking $20,000 from people...
“The Bahamas Government needs to look into this because it’s been going on for a long, long time, and it’s hurting a lot of people. And it’s still going on.”
Mr Brier spoke out after the north Florida district court completely dismissed claims that he and his fellow investors had “blackmailed” Long Island Investments’ principal, and his intermediary, into settling their dispute.
US magistrate judge, Charles Kahn, said the legal battle had resulted from a “speculative real estate investment in Long Island, Bahamas” that was made by Mr Brier and his fellow investors, Eugene Gridnev, an American, and Irish citizens, Mark Murphy and Phila Keane.
Recalling the background to the dispute, the judge said Mr Brier responded to an online advertisement offering undeveloped ocean lots in Long Island for $40,000.
He was then subsequently contacted by Mr Jansen, acting on behalf of Long Island Investments, a company owned and controlled by Billy Wayne Davis.
Mr Davis, who last year ran for the Republican nomination in Georgia’s 11th congressional district, has had a long and colourful career in real estate sales in the Family Islands, especially Rum Cay.
“Mr Jansen and Mr Davis indicated the lots soon would be selling for hundreds of thousands of dollars because a foreign investment group intended to invest $20 million into the development of a subdivision on the subject property,” the judgment noted. “The sellers also told Mr Brier famous people, such as Joe Montana [the NFL quarterback], were involved with the project.”
Mr Brier eventually purchased a lot in 2013, but began investigating the scheme after noticing numerous discrepancies on his conveyancing and title documents that were not corrected.
He discovered that the sale to him was ‘null and void’ because the subdivision in which the lot was situated had not obtained the necessary Planning and Subdivision Act approvals - something admitted to Tribune Business previously by Keith De Cay - who intervened in the matter as an ‘intermediary’ on Mr Davis’s behalf, seeking to settle the dispute.
In the meantime, Mr Brier, unable to recover his money despite repeated requests, had set up a website, www.BahamasLandSales.com, “to warn others of what he considered to be a fraudulent scheme and locate other investors, several of whom contacted him”.
The judgment added: “The plaintiffs discovered Mr Davis was a convicted felon who had been named in multiple lawsuits regarding alleged fraudulent land deals in the Bahamas.
“Several months later, in March 2015, the sellers expressed interest in settling the matter due, in plaintiffs’ estimation, to the negative publicity and criminal investigation.”
The two sides eventually reached a settlement agreement on March 31, 2015, where in return for ceasing the websites and criminal investigations, Mr Davis and his associates would “cease all false or deceptive marketing practices”, and Mr De Cay would pay Mr Brier and his group $40,000 per lot for a total S160,000 payout.
However, Mr De Cay ultimately defaulted on the payments, resulting in Mr Brier and his group seeking $94,000 via a summary judgment for breach of contract.
“Mr De Cay does not deny he failed to fully perform under the agreement,” the judge noted. “Instead, he contends the agreement was illegal and unenforceable because plaintiffs blackmailed him, did not have clear title to the property, and defendant had no issues to settle with plaintiffs.”
Finding that the settlement agreement was an enforceable contract, the judge said Mr De Cay “presents no evidence plaintiffs forced him to sign the settlement agreements or exercised any type of coercion or undue pressure.
“To the contrary, Mr De Cay initiated the settlement discussions in an effort to protect the value of his property and negotiated with plaintiffs. He had extensive communications with plaintiffs regarding the terms of the agreements; yet, at no time did he indicate in any way that he felt coerced or pressured by plaintiffs.
“Moreover, he performed under the agreements for a period of time without objection, apologised to plaintiffs when he was unable to do so, and thanked them for their understanding.”
Judge Kahn said there was no evidence of misconduct by Mr Brier and his group, and that the websites were directed at the allegedly “fraudulent practices of Mr Davis” - not Mr De Cay.
“The fact plaintiffs operated websites publicising negative information about Mr Davis does not constitute coercion against Mr De Cay, and certainly not blackmail,” the judge found.
“It appears Mr De Cay’s dissatisfaction with the agreements is based on his inability to continue to perform under them, and not with any perceived threat or coercion by plaintiffs. Mr De Cay may not rescind the agreements merely because he has become dissatisfied with their terms, or because he found himself unable to perform.”
The judge also found that Mr Brier and his group never made any representations as to the validity of their property’s title, adding: “Mr D Cay was aware of the questionable title at the time he entered into both the initial and amended settlement agreements, and thus could not have relied on any indication to the contrary.”