By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
An ex-convict’s bid to obtain summary judgment against a Harbour Island developer was this week rejected by a California judge.
Judge Gary Klausner threw out the bid by Bernard Ross, who has a history of convictions and run-ins with law enforcement, after ruling that Michael Wiener, principal of 4M Harbour Island Ltd, had produced a substantial defence.
The move comes after Mr Wiener alleged in court papers that Mr Ross entered into more than $327,000 worth of contracts without permission. These included $100,000 due to an Eleuthera-based contractor, Mickyles Enterprises, and its principal, Michael Johnson, for work that 4M’s principal should have been performed by Mr Ross.
Mr Wiener alleged that he had been forced to pay Mr Johnson some $50,000, or 50 percent of what he is owed, “to keep work progressing” on the Briland Residences & Marina development. A further $127,438 was said to be owed to RH Sasso/Coastal Systems International, the latter of which is a Florida-based company known for its work on marina and water-based developments in The Bahamas.
The 4M principal’s affidavit, filed on June 8 in response to Mr Ross’s bid to obtain a “partial summary judgment” against him for allegedly breaching their settlement agreement, indicated that “unauthorised” deals executed by the former project manager likely involved more than the $327,000 known. Apart from the agreement to pay $100,000 to Erik Sanderson, an “unknown” sum was also owed to a “Bobby Bargar”.
Mr Wiener explained that these previously unknown liabilities, which he discovered subsequent to the “settlement agreement” with Mr Ross and his wife, Holly, were why he has not paid the final two installments - worth collectively $1m - to the duo.
Suggesting he had moved to part ways when Mr Ross’s performance as project manager proved to be “more of a burden than benefit”, the 4M principal’s filings with the central California federal court alleged that the settlement only provided the ex-convict and his Harbour Island Development Management company with a “limited” release from their obligations.
Mr Wiener was backed by Mr Johnson, the Governor’s Harbour-based contractor still owed $50,000 for his work on the Briland Residences & Marina development. Revealing that he first met Mr Ross in 2017, the Bahamian entrepreneur said he was initially approached about being an electrical contractor for the project.
“Subsequently, he [Mr Ross] asked me to provide assistance liaising with the Harbour Island District Council, the governing authority on Harbour Island, as well as the Office of the Prime Minister,” Mr Johnson alleged in an affidavit filed with the central California court.
“As the nature of the project is a real estate development located on a small island in The Bahamas, I knew that my historical relationships and credibility with both the Harbour Island District Council and Office of the Prime Minister would be helpful.
“This was especially true with respect to the project Ross was working on since he claimed to be an owner of the project, and it was known to me - and government officials - that Ross had a prior felony conviction and other issues with the criminal justice system.”
Mr Ross subsequently refuted much of the allegations by Mr Wiener and Mr Johnson, alleging that a significant portion of their respective affidavits was based on events they have no first-hand knowledge of.
He and his wife had pushed for a “a partial summary judgment” against the 4M chief on the basis that he and his corporate entities have no defence to their claim that he breached the “settlement agreement” by failing to pay the outstanding $1m, but this was rejected by the California court.
Court filings previously reported on by Tribune Business revealed that Mr Ross - who was convicted of heroin possession in the US in 1976, and served a prison sentence - was effectively handed the keys to the project and given wide-ranging responsibilities by Mr Wiener. The duo’s legal battle is now heating up as they head towards a January 2021 trial in the California courts with multiple as-yet unnamed witnesses coming from The Bahamas.
4M’s Briland Residences & Marina project has also been subject to Judicial Review challenge in the Bahamian Supreme Court by rival Harbour Island hotelier, Benjamin Simmons, and Briland Island Responsible Development.
Both sides agreed that the site plan approval initially granted for the project should be quashed, having been wrongly granted by the Government’s Town Planning Committee instead of the Harbour Island District Council. Confusion then arose over whether the Council subsequently granted site plan approval, with councillors having voted in favour of doing so but nothing was produced in writing.