Lakeland Real Estate Executive Alleges Scam in $2 Billion Loan
LAKELAND | A Lakeland real estate executive says he was duped into paying a "facilitator" $183,000 for a $2 billion loan.
Now he wants his money back.
L. Todd Maxwell, chief executive of Century Retail Corp., thought he was getting an overseas loan from an intermediary with Citibank, but it turned out to be an elaborate scam, said Tom Saunders, a Bartow lawyer who represents Maxwell.
Maxwell is suing Piyush Shah of New Jersey in Polk County Circuit Court but Shah has not responded to the lawsuit, Saunders said. Shah could not be reached for comment.
"We've been in touch with Citibank and this is not the first time they've heard of this man using Citibank's name," Saunders told The Ledger on Friday. "These guys were good. They knew exactly what they were doing."
Century Retail develops and operates shopping centers in Florida and the Southeast. The company is an affiliate of the Lakeland-based Century Realty Funds real estate empire headed by Maxwell's father, Larry.
Todd Maxwell was contacted by Shah earlier this year while he was seeking financing for various Century projects, Saunders said. The New Jersey man purported to be an independent contractor working with Citibank to find clients for foreign loans, and said he could arrange a $2 billion loan in exchange for fees totaling $183,000.
Amid a tight U.S. credit market, "a lot of the money that was available in the past two years was coming from overseas ... and there were people who held themselves out as facilitators of those type of transactions," Saunders said.
After several discussions, Maxwell flew to London sometime around May to meet with Shah and people he thought were Citibank officials, Saunders said. They met in an office that appeared to be run by Citibank and Maxwell signed what looked like routine bank forms.
Months went by and the $2 billion never materialized.
"It was not simply a phone call and application, 'I'd like $2 billion.' It all looked like a normal commercial transaction," Saunders said. "I could see how (Maxwell) was misled. He's not a virgin businessman, but he was in fact duped."
Saunders said neither he nor any of Maxwell's business associates accompanied him on the trip.
Maxwell and Saunders Law Group filed the lawsuit in late July, suing Shah for fraud and breach of contract. They are seeking repayment of the $183,000 and any applicable damages and court costs.
The court filing says Maxwell completed multiple wire transfers to Shah "through the use of personal funds and on behalf of Century." Saunders said Todd Maxwell planned to use the $2 billion to make loan payments on various properties owned by Larry Maxwell's Century affiliates.
Ron Clark, lawyer for Larry Maxwell, said both he and Larry Maxwell were unfamiliar with Shah and the related lawsuit before The Ledger contacted him this week.
"That is something Todd has done on his own," Clark said.
A number of Larry Maxwell's Century Realty Funds affiliates filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in Tampa last month. Clark said the affiliates were mainly seeking protection because BB&T and Wells Fargo banks had refused to negotiate $61 million in outstanding loans on commercial projects.
[ Kyle Kennedy can be reached at email@example.com or 863-802-7584. ]