by JAKE NUTTING
Monday’s trip to Major League Soccer headquarters in Manhattan achieved its goals for the Tampa Bay Rowdies. The team handed over its formal application to join the league and generated some publicity in the process.
Not all coverage related to the Rowdies was favorable, though.
As the Rowdies were in the air on their way to New York City, the Tampa Bay Times was posting a story on the ongoing lawsuit filed in Georgia against team Owner Bill Edwards in which plaintiffs are requesting the courts freeze his assets or order him to post bond.
First filed in 2006 but only unsealed in 2011, the suit from whistle blowers Victor E. Bibby and Brian J. Donnelly accused Edwards’ company Mortage Investors Corp. (MIC) — along with seven other lending institutions — of charging illegal fees on loans to veterans over a ten-year period. Six of the lenders accused settled for a combined total of $172 million in 2012, leaving MIC and Wells Fargo as the only remaining defendants after their request for a dismissal were denied. A judge granted the plaintiffs request to separate MIC from the original case that same year.
Edwards was quick to point out the coincidental timing of the story from the Tampa Bay Times and the Rowdies handing over their MLS application on the same day. After a decade of back and fourth in court, the St. Petersburg bigwig showed no sign of concern that the latest development in the case will negatively impact his bid.
“It’s been going since 2006, they filed a lawsuit against anybody that did veteran loans,” Edwards said just a few moments after turning in the team’s application. “…[MIC] was one of the best veteran lenders in the United States, even according to the Veterans Administration. So we’re not going to let someone tell us otherwise after 25 years of servicing nothing but veterans. I’m a veteran myself, and we employed a lot of veterans. One veteran isn’t going to take it to another veteran and hurt them.”
The court has yet to take action on the plaintiffs motion for Edwards to post bond that came at the start of the new year. The plaintiffs claim the move is necessary following Edwards’ alleged “looting” of MIC assets as protection from a potential judgement in the case. Edwards and his attorneys have maintained that those claims are baseless.
Edwards was awarded a victory in court last summer when the judge dismissed all claims against him personally in the case. However, the plaintiffs are still seeking to hold Edwards individually liable after being granted permission last fall to pursue a false claims case through the “pierce-the-veil theory.” The theory applies to certain situations when an individual is essentially the same as a corporation due to the large influence they wield within it.
Proving “pierce-the-veil” cases are usually difficult, as they require evidence that funds were diverted from a corporation to directly benefit an individual. On top of that, the plaintiffs must prove every fraudulent claim individually in a false claims case. The plaintiffs allege that Edwards overcharged $182 million in illegal fees.
If the threat of a sizable judgement and the potential of having his assets frozen is looming over Edwards’ head, he isn’t letting it show.
“It’s a non-issue case, it’s just something they’re making a lot of noise about,” he said. “At the end of the day, there’s no proof and there’s no truth to any of it. Now they’re just trying to figure out how to get it from me because they don’t have a case. They’re just trying to get press.”