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As for the litany of abuses -- the encumbrance of the liquor license, the murky ownership of the marina forklifts, the unapproved subsidiaries that include Pirate's Point, Ltd. -- county administrators knew about them only late in the game, Irvine says. "We began to have our suspicions about these things last June. We were unable to confirm our suspicions -- despite frequent requests for information from MMI -- until MMI filed its disclosure statement and reorganization plan in bankruptcy court and we realized that there were several additional breaches of contract.
"Once we were in a position to recognize what we were dealing with in the business practices being undertaken by David Graham, a lawsuit was filed in Broward County, a receiver was appointed, and immediately thereafter the case was moved to federal bankruptcy court," he says. "All those steps prevented the county from taking action. Prior to that, when we would cite Graham for defaults, they would be cured."
Irvine notes that the county uses private lessees and concessionaires to operate five of its six marinas. He says it's the most practical way to run such a business. Restaurants, for example, are difficult for government to manage and are best run by private sector operators.
Asked whether he believes Graham and MMI have manipulated and abused their landlord by capitalizing on government's slow reaction time and fragmented bureaucracy, Irvine says, "I would find it difficult to disagree with that statement."
If and when Ocean Bank forecloses on the lease, the bank will have three months to repair the problems at Black Point and either hang on to the property or sell it to another operator. In recent weeks creditors voted to reject MMI's reorganization plan, so now the field is open to others who may want to propose a takeover. MMI can also propose yet another reorganization plan.
"The lease part of the operation, yeah, I'd say its a shame," says one midlevel county administrator, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "The whole experience with Graham has left a bad taste in people's mouths. This guy has got more rabbits in his hat than a magician, and at this point it's like everyone's just grabbing at the money. It's a mess, frankly."
These days, a for-sale sign adorns Graham's comfortable waterfront home in Fort Lauderdale. Sources say he's developing a new venture farther north, in Palm Beach County.