Power struggle between Fisher Island association’s directors ignites lawsuit

Complaint accuses five board members appointed by developer Fisher Island Holdings of voting on matters despite conflicts of interest

Oct.October 15, 2019 03:30 PM

Fisher Island (Credit: Michael Au via Flickr)

A power struggle is taking place on ritzy Fisher Island.

Fisher Island Community Association board members Michael Ashkin, Jeff Horowitz, Marc Peperzak and George Pearlman are suing the board’s five other directors appointed by developer Fisher Island Holdings over future development in the wealthy enclave and unpaid transportation services.

Fisher Island, reachable only by ferry, boat or helicopter, is consistently ranked as America’s wealthiest zip code.

The lawsuit filed in Miami-Dade Court last month accuses developer appointees Heinrich Von Hanau, Lauren Marks, Lee Ann Ryan, Mark Reid and Nicanor Gavidia, all of whom are also corporate officers and directors for Fisher Island Holdings, of voting on two community association matters despite having alleged conflicts of interest.

The complaint claims that the five directors voted for an expensive restoration of a Fisher Island seawall that is going to cost the community association $9 million, nearly $3 million more than a proposal favored by Ashkin, Horowitz, Peperzak and Pearlman. The method approved by the five developer appointees would increase the developable area on a parcel close to the seawall, thus benefiting the economic interest of Fisher Island Holdings, the lawsuit states.

Von Hanau, who is Fisher Island Holdings’ president, Marks, Ryan, Reid and Gavidia also voted not to charge the developer for barge usage dating back to October 2017 that allegedly deprived the community association of more than $2 million in transportation fees.

In both instances, the developer’s directors refused to recuse themselves from voting, the complaint alleges. Attorneys for both sides declined comment. But internal emails obtained by The Real Deal show both sides battling for the support of Fisher Island property owners.

A Sept. 20 message signed by Ashkin, Horowitz, Peperzak and Pearlman informs owners that the five developer directors “have forced through board decisions which are detrimental to the FICA membership, but clearly beneficial to the developer.”

The email also asks property owners to chip in voluntary contributions to pay for the lawsuit, which is estimated to cost between $200,000 to $400,000. “Since we have no independent authority to secure funding we first asked if we could use FICA funds to defend you,” the email states. “The answer was a firm no from the Fisher Island Holdings directors. We are forced to ask you to help us with a voluntary contribution of $1,000 or more.”

On Sept. 29, the five developer directors sent a response stating Ashkin, Horowitz, Peperzak and Pearlman have “never been able to explain the factual or legal basis for their claims.”

“We have been fully transparent and explained our position on these matters on multiple occasions,” the Fisher Island Holdings directors wrote. “It is telling that the FICA resident directors’ lawsuit and communication to you fails to disclose that they sought the advice of FICA’s counsel on the key ‘conflict of interest’ question.”

The letter notes the community association’s counsel advised no conflict existed and there was no basis to preclude Von Hanau, Marks, Ryan, Reid and Gavidia from voting on the seawall and barge issues.

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