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Florida Keys News
Friday, January 4, 2013
$1.25 million remains center of dispute
Bank wants to keep it, non-profit firm said it's a security deposit for project

A federal judge will hear this month from lawyers challenging his decision to grant a nonprofit underwater-archaeology firm the return of its $1.25 million investment in a defunct Stock Island marina development project.

U.S. District Judge Jose Martinez on Jan. 14 will hear from Centennial Bank why it thinks it should not have to pay RPM Nautical back, said RPM attorney Ed Scales.

RPM for three years has been trying to recoup the $1.25 million it gave to New Stock Island Properties on Feb. 23, 2007, as part of a planned marina and hotel complex.

The cash was designated as money to be paid back if New Stock Island Properties failed to complete the marina and deliver RPM a slip there in three years' time, according to a federal lawsuit. The money essentially was a security deposit for the slip.

Those dollars were put into an escrow account at Key West Bank, which failed in March 2010 when the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) was made receiver, according to http://www.fdic.gov/bank/individual/failed/key-west.html. Centennial Bank then took over, so RPM Nautical is trying to get its money back from that financial institution. The FDIC involvement resulted in the case being transferred from the state's 16th Judicial Circuit Court in Monroe County to federal court.

Martinez scheduled a hearing for Jan. 14 to discuss a litany of motions.

If RPM's motion for summary judgement stands, it would "dispose of about 90 percent of the case," Scales said.

A tentative trial date was set for March 25 at the federal courthouse in Key West on Simonton Street.

Centennial Bank attorney Chris Carver of Miami did not return a phone message seeking comment.

At the heart of the matter is the Old Island Harbor development project that fell on hard times and was in foreclosure to the tune of more than $100 million, but since has been resurrected as a much smaller project now called Stock Island Marina Village.

The first ambitious and controversial redevelopment project called for a hotel, ferry terminal for potential service to Cuba, upscale condominiums and a series of new shops and restaurants on property that historically was used as working waterfront.

The new project still calls for a hotel, but aims to keep more of the working waterfront.

Also involved in the case is the estate of the late Thomas DiDato, who was a Keys attorney. RPM Nautical claims Key West Bank improperly allowed DiDato to take funds from the escrow account.

DiDato committed suicide in May 2010 while under investigation by the Monroe County State Attorney's Office for allegedly stealing the money. It was unclear how close the matter was to being settled when DiDato killed himself.

RPM Nautical reached major league status among academics worldwide in 2011 when it raised from the Mediterranean Sea helmets and vessel-battering rams used during a battle between Roman and Carthaginian forces in 241 B.C.E.

alinhardt@keysnews.com

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