One of the most disconcerting people I have ever crossed paths with seems to have met a tragic end. I meet all kinds of people in my line of work, and sometimes, a person’s story just doesn’t seem right. This is a saga about one of those people.
The story starts in 2006 in Palm Beach. We had just finished representing the Tiara Condominium, a high profile 42 story condominium just north of Palm Beach, and the press was very favorable. Citizens Property Insurance Corporation refused to pay more than $42 million dollars for damages caused by Hurricanes Francis and Jean. We were retained in August 2005, immediately filed a lawsuit, aggressively litigated the matter, and quickly resolved the case for approximately $90 million.
Our client was very pleased, as were we. From a marketing perspective, I wish more of our cases, like the Port of New Orleans matter, did not contain confidentiality agreements regarding the amounts of settlement. Most insurers do not want the public to learn how much they pay in a settlement where we allege the company did not act in good faith.
At the time of the Tiara lawsuit, Tower 1515 Condominium was having its own insurance problems. After reading of our success and getting a recommendation from a Tiara Board member, they called me for help. Like so many other clients, I wish they had called much earlier because there were major problems with their claim. In the glow of the Tiara win, I thought I could fix them all.
The Tower 1515 litigation was intense and the opposing counsel, Bill Berk and Debra Bain, were very good. We have battled them since Hurricane Andrew, and they were adamant there was no coverage for this loss. This case had us flying all over the country, and it took a physical toll on the attorneys. Debra Bain was so worked up during a deposition that she was taken to a hospital. She complained that our intense representation was not allowing her to work on anything else. The truth is that she and Bill Berk were not giving up either, so it was a very stressful and thorough legal battle for all.
During all this, the Tower 1515 Condominium owners were approached by an investor, Thanos Papalexis. He wanted to buy each owner’s interest in the Condominium, promising a fair price and a way out of a huge financial mess. It was everything the Tower 1515 owners wanted to hear. To me, it sounded to good to be true. Several Board members who contracted to sell their property to Papalexis asked me to meet with him, and we met for lunch.
He did several things I found odd. First, he drove a Bentley, which is usually driven by those of a more mature age. I expected Papalexis, who was in his thirties, to drive a sportier car. "Charming" is a word I use to describe my daughter, but it was his way as well. We had a nice lunch as he described his plan to buy the Condominium and use the insurance proceeds along with a loan to rebuild the 30 year old structure into something newer and better. He couldn’t explain where the money was coming from, and he promised too much for such a risky investment. When he paid for lunch with cash and did not ask for a receipt, I suspected something was wrong.
Ten years earlier, I ate lunch with a man who fabricated the causation of a loss and his ownership in a building. Like Papalexis, he paid cash for lunch rather than using a credit card and he did not keep a receipt. Every legitimate business person in America pays by credit card or gets a receipt for tax purposes. There is no business expense to report to the Internal Revenue Service without a receipt or credit card statement. Only people who do not honestly report revenue have no need for business receipts. I remembered this and told attorneys in my firm that Papalexis was not who he appeared to be.
Our next meeting was at his office. I took my trusted exhibit colleague, Jack Stein of Trial Exhibits, because I wanted a second opinion of Papalexis. Papalexis’ office was located at 440 Royal Palm Way in a very nice office building. This was a prime location in Palm Beach next to private banking firms that cater to the very wealthy. His office was opulent and too perfect. From the model receptionist to the throne chairs in his personal office, everything seemed to be an interior designer’s dream of an office suited for modern royalty rather than a working man’s office. Jack Stein was impressed, but he was as wrong as everyone else.
I told the Tower 1515 board members that something was wrong and they needed to check Papalexis’ background and financial backing. Their general counsel said he could find nothing of substance. Still, Papalexis persuaded people to sell to him with no money in return. A local reporter called me about Papalexis and asked for my impression of whether he was a con artist. I told the reporter that I had no idea, but that he was obtaining the rights to everything and that whether he or the Board were eventually my boss, I was going to get as much as I could for whomever owned the rights to the claim.
Eventually, Papalexis never came through with the money. He delayed final closings three times and backed out of the deal. I felt horrible for those owners who lost the ability to sell to other legitimate buyers before the condominium market collapsed. While the insurance claim was resolved, the owners were still left in a mess because of Papalexis’ false promises and delays.
The law recently caught up with Thanos Papalexis. The Evening Standard reported that he was arrestested for a murder committed eight years ago in England. Papalexis allegedly had a person killed because he refused to sell his property. The news story notes a number of people duped by Papalexis, including the owners of Tower 1515.
There is a cold place in hell reserved for people who con the disenfranchised and desperate. Many of the 1515 owners were retired middle class folk. While there were a few million dollar Penthouse units, most of the people Papalexis conned were of much more modest means. Do not believe that you would do something different. These owners were teachers, cops, and assorted business people tricked by a very skilled fake.
The lesson for all is to recognize it next time and always check the background of strangers promising things too good to be true. Most of the time it is.