Sarasota Herald-Tribune

Vern Buchanan’s failed Ritz deal

Ritz-Carlton co-developer Kevin Daves saw Vern Buchanan as the answer to his financial problems in July 1999.

Daves, in search of what he called a ”$15 million man,” believed Buchanan was wealthy enough to secure a $94 million bank loan to finance the luxury hotel project Daves had been working on for years.

Daves said Buchanan, the owner of Sarasota Ford and other Florida dealerships, dazzled him with the story of how he sold a printing company in Michigan for $100 million. Not only that, he was on the board of directors at a local bank.

But in the course of 40 days, Daves soured on Buchanan, whom he came to view as someone who talked big and didn’t deliver. Facing deadline pressures that threatened to kill the $122 million project, he told Buchanan he was moving on without him. Instead, Daves brought in Kansas oil tycoon Robert Buford to finance the deal.

The details of one of the biggest development deals in Sarasota’s history — and the allegations of misconduct hurled among those involved in bringing it here — have been kept secret since 2001, thanks to a rarely employed judicial order that sealed the squabble from public view.

After a month of courtroom jostling, Buchanan agreed last week to unseal the lawsuit. The 11-volume file includes financial statements and court records compiled to bolster claims by Buford and Daves that Buchanan wasn’t the big-money businessman he had made himself out to be.

Though he initially said he couldn’t remember who asked the judge to seal the case, the seal order shows it was Buchanan who was worried the details might tarnish his reputation as a titan of Sarasota’s business community.

“It comes down to credibility — an impression of everything you’ve done in your life,” Buchanan said Thursday.

This year, Buchanan is staking that credibility and reputation on a run for Katherine Harris’ vacant seat in U.S. Congress. With his victory in the Sept. 5 Republican primary, Buchanan faces Democrat Christine Jennings for the right to represent 640,000 Southwest Floridians.

Buchanan has acknowledged that he fought to keep the case sealed until after the Sept. 5 primary election because he feared his opponents would use its contents to smear him.

A Herald-Tribune review of the case file shows Buchanan had reason to be concerned.

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