Judge to rule in Naples Bay Resort bankruptcy case

Daily News file
Deliveries are made at the Naples Bay Resort in 2011. The bankruptcy trial for Naples Bay Resort began Monday and will continue into next week.

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Daily News file Deliveries are made at the Naples Bay Resort in 2011. The bankruptcy trial for Naples Bay Resort began Monday and will continue into next week.

TAMPA - It's all over but the ruling.

An eight-day trial in bankruptcy court involving the Naples Bay Resort and its dueling partners ended late Wednesday after closing arguments from the two sides.

U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Caryl Delano, who had hoped to rule on the case after hearing the final arguments, decided she needs a few more days to weigh all the evidence and all the testimony she heard.

There were hundreds of exhibits, with one side alone listing more than 650. At the end of the trial, attorneys needed extra muscle to move out all the legal boxes filled with the paper trail that will help guide Delano's ultimate decision on the case.

"I hope to make a ruling that you all will be able to live with," Delano said. "I have a feeling this is just a step along the way."

The trial is just part of a messy bankruptcy case involving Basil Street Partners, which could continue to drag out in federal court as the company that developed Naples Bay Resort looks to reorganize.

The case has pitted Naples developer Jack Antaramian against his three other partners in the project: Fred Pezeshkan, chairman of Manhattan Construction (Florida), and investors Raymond Sehayek and Iraj Zand. Pezeshkan and Zand testified in their defense, but Sehayek could not be at the trial because a family emergency kept him out of the country.

Antaramian is fighting for control over the 20-acre Naples Bay Resort project, near Tin City in downtown Naples. The project includes 85 hotel rooms, 30 residences and a marina with 97 boat slips.

In 2010, Regions Bank, a lead lender, foreclosed on the project after Antaramian and his other partners defaulted on a $36 million mortgage. Antaramian later stepped into the shoes of the bank, buying the note for about $8.7 million. He's now foreclosing on it and looking to collect on the guarantees his other partners made on the loan. Those guarantees are for up to $15 million.

In 2011, Antaramian and several other creditors filed an involuntary petition for Chapter 7 bankruptcy against Basil Street Partners. He was a partner in the company until he resigned before taking control of the mortgage.

Taking the stand for a final time on Wednesday morning, Antaramian said his motivation all along has been to keep the resort open and operating.

In the case, Antaramian contends he's now owed more than $50 million under the Regions Bank loan and more than $1.7 million that he's spent to keep the Naples Bay Resort operating, plus damages.

In his closing arguments, Antaramian's lead attorney, Ted Tripp, said the evidence shows how his client came to the rescue of the resort, which was in jeopardy of closing with bills and taxes unpaid. It was losing more than $2 million a year, he said, and Antaramian was the only one willing and able to save it.

"The bank did not want to foreclose," Tripp said. "It did not want to own the resort."

He said Antaramian's partners didn't jump on the opportunity to buy the mortgage because they had "another agenda." That agenda, he said, was only to buy the note if there was a "global settlement" that resolved their debts on unrelated loans for other projects.

Tripp said the only advantage Antaramian had in the negotiations with Regions was that he was the only one committed to the success of the resort.

Robbie Landon, representing Antaramian's three partners, argued that it was unfair for Antaramian to negotiate only on his own behalf for the purchase of the loan, that the loan should have been purchased for the benefit of Basil Street Partners, not himself, and that he breached his fiduciary to his partners. He said his clients should be let out of their guarantees as a result.

"You can not profit by suing your co-guarantors," Landon said.

He said Pezeshkan, Zand and Sehayek had the financial horsepower to buy the note for the amount that Antaramian did, but he argued they never got the chance and they were advised by Basil Street's attorney not to negotiate a deal on their own because of legal risks.

Pezeshkan and Zand both testified during the trial about how Antaramian backed out of what they described as a global settlement, reached in May 2010, that they believed would have resolved all of the partners' debts on the Naples Bay Resort project and three other loans, which would have avoided a legal battle. They said Antaramian told them he could no longer support the agreement at a board meeting June 15, 2010 because his looming divorce had taken an ugly turn.

During the trial, the court-appointed trustee overseeing Basil Street's reorganization, testified the troubled resort would run out of money again by March if there wasn't a quick ruling from the bankruptcy trial.

Delano expects to rule on Monday.

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