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Seminole Hard Rock becomes the battleground for businessmen with Trump ties

Richard Fields and his company Coastal Development are suing Robert Toussie, alleging fraud and defamation, among other charges
By Francisco Alvarado |
Research by Haru Coryne
April 18, 2018 04:15PM

Rendering of Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino

Robert Toussie — a New York developer with enough clout to secure a presidential pardon for his son in 2008 that was revoked the same week it was issued — bragged about using his friendship with Donald Trump as part of an alleged revenge scheme against a former business partner who also has ties to the president, according to an explosive lawsuit filed in Miami-Dade Circuit Court last month.

Richard Fields, and his Delaware company Coastal Development, are suing Toussie for fraud, negligent misrepresentation, breach of fiduciary duty, tortious interference and defamation in connection with their partnership that co-developed the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood and its sister gaming resort in Tampa.

Attorneys for Fields declined comment. Jonathan Lupkin, Toussie’s attorney, said Fields’ complaint has no merit. “This case is a Hail Mary,” Lupkin said. “It is an attempt to come out from under a multimillion-dollar judgment entered in New York State Supreme Court against Mr. Fields and Coastal.”

In late 2016, arbitrator and New York attorney Elias Leo Milonas ruled that Fields and Coastal violated the partnership agreement by refusing to pay Toussie its share of a lump sum payment that was part of a 2007 settlement agreement from the Seminole Tribe for more than $200 million to buy out the two partners. The previous year, Toussie settled a lawsuit against Fields over the casino resorts’ profits in which both parties agreed to handle any future disputes through arbitration. Milonas identified other breaches by Fields, including his leveraging of the partnership’s casino resort revenue to finance loans that fueled a lavish lifestyle filled with property purchases in New York, Florida, Texas and Wyoming, where he borrowed nearly $30 million from Bank of America to buy a ranch.

Charles Ramos, a justice in the New York Supreme Court’s commercial division, confirmed Milonas’ findings in April 2017.

According to Fields’ lawsuit, Toussie “significantly supported Trump’s presidential campaign” and attended the president’s Jan. 20, 2017 inauguration. A former show business promoter, Fields learned the casino business as a consultant for Trump’s Atlantic City gaming properties from 1995 to 1999, according to media reports. The pair subsequently teamed up to strike a deal with Florida’s Seminole Tribe to develop the Hollywood and Tampa casino resorts.

But Trump backed out and sued Fields in 2004 over the failed partnership.

The litigation was terminated four years later when Fields’ company Coastal Marina agreed to buy the Trump Marina Hotel Casino in Atlantic City for $316 million, although the deal never closed amid the 2008 real estate market crash. In 2011, Trump Entertainment Resort sold the casino resort at a deep discounted price of $38 million to Houston-based hospitality company Landry’s.

Meanwhile, Fields brought in Toussie as a minority partner in the Seminole development deals, in which the New York real estate mogul saw his initial $2.88 million investment turned into more than $40 million in profits over a 15-year span, the complaint states.

However, Toussie sought arbitration against Fields two years ago after he stopped receiving monthly payments that represented his share of the casino resort revenue. Milonas awarded Toussie $6.7 million in future gaming revenue payments from the Seminole casinos deal covering the period from 2016 to 2029, and $812,430 in attorney fees, according to the complaint. During a summer 2017 meeting with a mediator, Toussie allegedly named-dropped Trump while complaining about Fields, the complaint alleges. Fields has a pending appeal of the arbitration award.

“Robert further stated that if Fields did not pay Robert the arbitration award that he will follow through and have Fields prosecuted and thrown in jail,” the lawsuit alleges. “And that Fields would then have to beg Robert to appeal to Trump to have Fields pardoned.”

Fields accuses Toussie of rigging the arbitration hearing and screwing him over as retaliation for making his business partner write an affidavit more than a decade ago that Toussie’s son Isaac has no involvement in the Seminole casino partnership, and that criminal investigations and civil lawsuits involving other Toussie projects would not have an adverse impact on Coastal’s stake in the Hollywood and Tampa gaming projects, as well as future casino deals.

Toussie attorney Lupkin declined to comment on the specific allegations in Fields’ lawsuit, but said the casino executive is trying to deflect from his own improprieties. “The conduct here by Mr. Fields was completely inappropriate,” Lupkin said. “The arbitrator, E. Leo Milonas, is one of the most preeminent appellate judges that has ever sat on the appellate bench in New York. He is widely respected by all. His findings are very damning in my view.”