Attorneys sometimes play a tough game.
And some lawyers play hardball.
When an attorney complained of Federal Emergency Management Agency substantial improvement fraud by Wash Family Construction, city officials were obligated under federal law to investigate.
Jesse M. Tilden of Bradenton’s Tilden and Prohidney first went to the city in July with his allegations of fraud.
The city approved a resolution July 12 authorizing the mayor to undertake an investigation into Tilden’s claims.
Mayor Dan Murphy said at the Aug. 9 commission meeting that Wash’s attorney, Peter J. Mackey of the Mackey Law Group of Bradenton, told city attorney Becky Vose in a phone call Aug. 9 that city officials would regret taking on such an investigation.
“The conversation began with Mr. Mackey telling the city attorney that the city of Anna Maria did not know how much trouble it was stirring up for itself by making accusations against Mr. Wash,” Murphy said.
Murphy said at the meeting that Mackey told Vose the majority of city officials — without specifying anyone — are guilty of the same type of actions.
“He continued that if the city keeps accusing Mr. Wash of doing something wrong, all the secrets of the city officials will come out,” Murphy said. “He said that if Mr. Wash is going to be taken down, he’s going to bring the city down with him.”
Mackey was not available for comment Aug. 10, but Darrin Wash, by phone and text message, refuted his involvement with any threats against the city.
“This is not from the Wash family,” Wash texted Aug. 10. “My wife, Dawn Wash, and I have never thought anything like that. We do not have any information on any city employees or officials, and that quote is not from the Wash family.
“It’s not from us,” Wash continued. “It’s probably a misunderstanding somewhere, but it’s not from me. There’s no devious plan here. We are pillars of the community, we’ve been here 30 years, we’ve had kids here, we love Anna Maria.”
Wash first filed his lawsuit and a lien in June 2016 against L. Martin and Threse Quinn Hurbi, owners of 759 N. Shore Drive, in the 12th Circuit Court seeking payment for work done to the property.
Wash completed the work valued at $295,000, all requested and authorized by Hurbi on permits, but was only paid $199,446.29, according to the lawsuit.
Allegedly, when the Hurbis received the final bill of $94,208.64, they complained about overbilling, defective work and fraudulent permitting.
The lawsuit for payment has not been resolved.
According to Vose, the information provided by Tilden relates to a counter suit filed by him on behalf of Hurbi alleging fraud, based on discrepancies in fees on 27 renovation projects for which Tilden claims Wash Family Construction submitted estimates to the city for permits and higher bills to property owners.
By reporting lower construction estimates to the city, the contractor could allegedly avoid FEMA’s 50 percent rule to make more improvements to ground-level homes than would otherwise be permitted.
Wash claims in his lawsuit that some 51 change orders initiated by the Hurbis caused the work and fees to exceed the original permit and the money due.
The Hurbis first responded to the Wash lawsuit with complaints a sliding-glass door couldn’t be opened with a single finger, that a leak in the new bathroom left the bathroom floor unlevel and more.
The Hurbis then filed their own lawsuit, alleging Wash fraudulently overbilled for the work performed.
Tilden told The Islander Aug. 8 that he and the Hurbis stand behind their complaint and are confident they will prove their claim in court.
“This is something that was thrown in our lap and we were obligated, under federal law, to investigate and to look at, otherwise we become complicit,” Murphy said. “So that’s the issue, and it’s a serious issue to me that we’re being bullied, threatened that this secret information is going to come out about all city officials.”
Vose also said the city is legally obligated to look into the matters brought to its attention by Tilden.
She recounted her conversations with Mackey in an Aug. 9 two-page memo to the mayor, stating, Mackey first notified her “a few weeks ago,” saying Wash was willing to meet and explain his position to city officials.
That conversation was followed by an Aug. 9 phone call between Mackey and Vose that included his accusations. She made note in her memo of “two distinct ‘tones of voice’ that were used by Mr. Mackey during the telephone conversation.”
She said when they spoke of scheduling a meeting for Wash and the city building official, Mackey exhibited a “normal ‘business’ tone of voice. Whereas, the majority of statements by Mr. Mackey were in what I would describe as a ‘menacing’ tone of voice.”
Murphy said FEMA officials met with acting building official Luke Curtis Aug. 9 to review the matter.
No outcome from that meeting was announced.