KEY WEST -- The five Cay Clubs executives who are accused by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission of running a $300 million Ponzi scheme have asked that the case be transferred from Key West to Miami.
Referencing a press release the SEC put out when it filed the charges last winter, attorney Kenneth Hazouri argued in the Dec. 15 motion that his clients would face a poisoned jury pool in the Keys. Hazouri represents former Cay Clubs CEO Dave Clark, Clark's wife, Cristal Coleman, and Cay Clubs CFO Dave Schwarz.
Attorneys for the other two defendants in the civil case, former Cay Clubs Director of Sales Barry Graham and Director of Investor Relations Rick Lynn Stokes, also support the change of venue request, according to the motion.
Media coverage that stemmed from the press release, Hazouri argued, "has significantly saturated the lightly-populated geographic area from which jurors would be drawn for a trial of this case in Key West. That fact creates a substantial threat of juror bias and prejudice against defendants."
The release, like the SEC's suit, accused executives of the defunct Cay Clubs of defrauding 1,400 investors nationwide by leading them to believe they were investing in the development of five-star resorts.
Even while the company collapsed, the defendants lined their pockets to the tune of millions and used investor funds to purchase boats, planes, precious metals and a rum distillery, the release said.
The charges drew heavy coverage in The Key West Citizen, the Florida Keys Free Press and other Keys newspapers and media. In their suit, the SEC asserted that the Key West federal courthouse is the proper venue because Cay Clubs' principal place of business was Key Largo and because Clark resided in Key Largo during the company's 2004 to 2007 run. In addition, they said, Graham lives in Marathon.
Hazouri, however, asserts in his motion for a venue change that Cay Clubs principal business office was in Clearwater and that Graham now resides in Fort Myers.
Trying the case in Miami, he wrote, would be less expensive for the parties, more convenient and more efficient.