By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
A Supreme Court judge has branded a realtor “a stranger to the truth” after finding he sold the same land to two different buyers - Sir Franklyn Wilson and a Bahamian retail entrepreneur.
Justice Indra Charles, in an April 17 ruling, said Anthony Ramond Munnings appeared to “have practised a web of deceit over many years” after awarding Andrew Wilson, Quality Business Centre’s (QBC) principal, some $207,600 in damages.
She ruled that Mr Wilson and QBC, an electronic goods retailer, had been “deceived” into purchasing nine western New Providence lots by the “fraudulent misrepresentation” of Mr Munnings who failed to disclose he had sold the same land five years’ earlier to Sir Franklyn’s Harmony Homes company.
QBC had initially sought $287,600 in damages, broken down into the $260,000 purchase price; $17,600 in Stamp Duty; and $10,000 in legal fees and associated expenses incurred in acquiring the lots situated in the Lake Villanees Subdivision, which is located west of Gladstone Road.
However, “certain admissions” by Mr Munnings in his original defense enabled QBC to persuade a different Supreme Court judge to award them an initial $80,000 in damages as the realtor had confessed to receiving this sum in exchange for five of the lots. Justice Charles then took over the case to deal with the $207,600 balance of the retailer’s claim.
According to her judgment, Mr Munnings and QBC’s Mr Wilson met between March and May 2007 to discuss the proposed transaction. “The plaintiff [Mr Wilson/QBC] alleged that the defendant [Mr Munnings] fraudulently represented that he was the sole legal and beneficial owner of the lots and that they were for sale,” Justice Charles wrote.
“As a result, the plaintiff was induced into purchasing the lots and, in reliance on the defendant’s misrepresentation, the plaintiff paid the defendant the sum of $260,000 as consideration for the transfer of the lots.”
The deal was closed through three conveyances executed between March and May 2007, but QBC/Mr Wilson alleged they were only alerted to problems in December 2011 when they attempted to sell two of the lots. The potential purchaser, conducting to title search and other due diligence, found that the lots in question formed part of a 7.22-acre tract sold to Sir Franklyn’s Harmony Homes in 2002.
Mr Munnings, though, denied that he had made and fraudulent misrepresentations. He instead sought to blame his then-attorney, Philip Lundy, who he alleged dealt with all matters relating to the QBC sale. Mr Lundy also represented both parties in the transaction.
Mr Wilson, testifying for QBC during the trial, said he thought the $260,000 purchase price was “a good deal” - his attorney arguing that the lots were “grossly undersold”. However, after uncovering the alleged fraud due to his subsequently lost sale, the retailer said he instructed his attorneys to file a criminal complaint with the Royal Bahamas Police Force.
Justice Charles’ judgment did not divulge the outcome of any police investigation. However, under cross-examination he testified that Mr Munnings approached him about the deal when in his former downtown Nassau store that was “right across the street from Mr Lundy’s office”.
“He then went over to Mr Lundy’s office to further discuss and facilitate the transaction,” Justice Charles added of Mr Wilson’s evidence. “Under re-examination, Mr Wilson indicated that the defendant was the one who directed him to go to Mr Lundy. Mr Lundy did not do any searches. He merely facilitated the transaction.”
Mr Munnings, in his testimony, said he was informed by Mr Lundy that Mr Wilson was interested in purchasing land in the Lake Villanees Subdivision (LVS) and would be acting for both parties in the deal, Describing himself as a realtor by profession, Mr Munnings said he never discussed the transaction with Mr Wilson, and that all negotiations were between the latter and Mr Lundy.
Describing QBC’s claim as “fraudulent”, Mr Munnings denied conveying the 7.22 acre tract containing the lots to Sir Franklyn’s Harmony Homes on January 8, 2002. This was despite being show the conveyance lodged with the registry of records detailing that transaction. Mr Munnings also described this as “fraudulent”, and denied that it was his signature on the document.
Having assessed the evidence and witnesses, Justice Charles said she preferred the testimony of Mr Wilson who she described as “candid and straightforward”.
“On the other hand, the defendant, in spite of his engaging manner, can hardly be believed and I attached very little weight to his evidence,” she ruled. “In other words, I found him to be a stranger to the truth. Mr Wilson thought that he was getting a bargain. Four years later, he realised that he was deceived by the defendant who had already sold the same lots to Harmony Homes.
“I found that, as a result of the misrepresentation of the defendant, the plaintiff executed the three conveyances for the lots and paid for them. I agree with [Mr Wilson’s attorney] that, from the defendant’s defence, he seeks to muddle the issues in order to avoid his obligation. The irrefutable fact is that the defendant’s signature appears on the three conveyances issued to the plaintiff.
“In my judgment, the defendant made the representations fraudulently and either well knowing that they were false and untrue or recklessly not caring whether his representations were true or false.......”
And Justice Charles, noting that Mr Munnings had failed to produce the conveyance showing six lots were sold to QBC for $80,000, added: “One would expect that he would have that conveyance in his possession. After all, he is no ordinary man. According to him, he is a realtor.
“He had, in the past, sold many lots of land not only in LVS but other areas in New Providence. In my judgment, it appears that he has practised a web of deceit over the many years.”
The judge also criticised Mr Munnings for “hurling a sundry of aspersions” at his long-time attorney Mr Lundy, who was acting as his “agent” in dealings with Mr Wilson and QBC.
Despite finding against Mr Munnings, Justice Charles also cleared up the issue of whether the 2002 conveyance for the sale to Sir Franklyn’s Harmony Homes was fraudulent as the realtor claimed.
She found that the sale remained in effect even though the document was executed before Mr Munnings acquired title and ownership of the land involved, as this was not completed until 2004.
“I declare that Harmony Homes is the owner of the 7.22 acre tract of land in the January 2002 conveyance,” Justice Charles ruled. “I also find that the plaintiff did not receive good and marketable title in fee simple in possession to the lots given that they form part of the valid January 2002 conveyance to Harmony Homes.
“In my judgment, the plaintiff has adduced credible evidence to support the claim of fraudulent misrepresentation made by the defendant, and the defendant made such misrepresentation knowing the same not to be true.
“Furthermore, there is sufficient evidence to show that such misrepresentation induced the plaintiff to purchase the lots at a considerable amount of money. As a result of the misrepresentation of the defendant, the plaintiff has suffered loss and damage given the fact that the lots were previously sold to Harmony Homes.”
Mr Wilson was represented by his brother John F. Wilson, now senior partner at McKinney, Bancroft & Hughes.