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After settling legal battle, Catalfumo must pay $44 million to lender

By Pat Beall - Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

For more than a year, BBX Capital Asset Management scoured nooks and crannies looking for Dan Catalfumo’s money.

It found millions in the Cayman Islands.

Now, the once high-flying developer has settled a bruiser of a battle with lender BBX, leaving him, relatives and companies on the hook for $44 million.

BBX declined comment on its agreement with Catalfumo, announced Monday. But in court documents, BBX, formerly BankAtlantic Bancorp, outlined a tangled series of Cayman Island trusts and cash transfers allegedly intended to shield Catalfumo from paying a 2-year-old $40.9 million judgment the lender had won.

Catalfumo has argued that the lender always knew about the offshore money. BBX, he said, was pursuing a “scorched earth policy.” And Catalfumo attorney Gary Dunkel emphasizes that the settlement agreement doesn’t mean his client agrees with BBX’s description of why, and how, the money got to the Caymans.

“This wasn’t done to avoid creditors, it was for legitimate estate planning purposes,” said Dunkel. “We have always denied” any effort to hide assets.

At the heart of the dispute are loans made to two of Catalfumo’s many companies, money that went toward developing the high-profile PGA Professional and Design Center at PGA Boulevard and Interstate 95.

According to BBX, Catalfumo created a Cayman Islands trust three days before one loan came due. Millions began flowing into the account. At the same time, Catalfumo asked for, and received, loan extensions.

Between the time the bank granted extra time to pay off the loans, and the time it declared a default, BBX charges the builder socked away $25 million in the Caymans, more than $4 million of it just nine days before the default.

Even after a suit was filed to recoup assets, BBX writes, Catalfumo continued to fund the trust, transferring $30 million in the first months of the litigation.

In 2011, BBX won a $40.9 million judgment against Catalfumo and his two companies.

It was a sharp fall from grace for the builder, who only a few years earlier had presided over a sprawling $300 million development company.

And in 2011, the BBX suit was far from Catalfumo’s only financial trouble. By that same year, other lender lawsuits demanding more than $50 million had been filed against Catalfumo companies. Because he had personally guaranteed many of the notes, Catalfumo’s personal fortune was at stake as well. Between 2008 and 2010, he wrote in a recent court filing, his net worth plunged from $99 million to $18 million.

BBX, however, filed more than 50 legal actions in Florida, South Carolina and the Caymans, believing that there was more money to be had. Eventually, that led the lender to a Caymans Island trust holding more than $70 million.

Beneficiaries included Catalfumo, his wife and children, BBX said. A separate Caymans account, Susan’s Passion, was linked to Catalfumo’s wife, but it was not clear that BBX is also seeking those assets.

In a written statement Monday, BBX said that Catalfumo, various companies and unidentified relatives would be responsible for paying off the $44 million settlement. Dunkel, though, says Catalfumo, his wife and children will not personally pay off the settlement. He stopped short of specifying where the money would come from.

Whoever pays, the bill comes due quickly: $25 million in cash and property valued at $14 million will have to be turned over the first week in July and an additional $5 million in November.

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