Delray Beach developer Anthony Pugliese should pay the estate of the late Subway founder Fred DeLuca nearly $13 million in connection with a failed partnership to build a sprawling community on ranch land in Central Florida, a Palm Beach County judge ruled this month.
Sorting out the meaning of a verdict a jury reached in February, Circuit Judge Donald Hafele ruled that Pugliese should pay $4 million for breaching the contract he had with DeLuca to build a 41,000-acre town dubbed “Destiny” and another $8.7 million for civil theft.
Attorney Richard Hutchison, who represents DeLuca’s widow, said Hafele’s ruling means Pugliese owes his client $12.7 million.
However, in keeping with the discord that has punctuated the long-running litigation and carried over into the monthlong trial, Pugliese’s attorney disagreed.
“He’s a liar,” attorney Edgar Belaval, in-house litigation counsel for Pugliese’s development company, said of Hutchison’s view. Instead, he said, Hafele’s decision means Pugliese owes DeLuca’s estate $8.7 million. The $4 million is included in the $8.7 million, it’s not in addition to it, he said.
If the lawyers can’t resolve their different interpretations of the judge’s order, Belaval said he will either ask Hafele to clarify his ruling or seek guidance from the 4th District Court of Appeal.
In any case, he said, Pugliese has no intention of cutting a check for either amount. Belaval said the West Palm Beach appeals court has already been asked to reinstate 19 claims Pugliese made against DeLuca — claims that Hafele threw out.
If the appeals court agrees, Belaval said Pugliese will seek tens of millions of dollars against the estate of the man who built a global empire on the strength of the $5 foot-long. The money Pugliese now owes DeLuca would simply be deducted from what he hopes a future jury will decide, he said.
The dueling lawsuits the two business titans filed against each other have been filled with twists and turns. Prosecutors used statements Pugliese made in the civil litigation to file criminal charges against the 70-year-old politically connected developer and his business partner, Joseph Reamer.
In August 2015, weeks before DeLuca died of leukemia at age 67, Pugliese and Reamer pleaded no contest to conspiracy to commit organized scheme to defraud for sending DeLuca phony invoices from fake companies and funneling the money into dummy bank accounts. Pugliese, who also pleaded no contest to grand theft, served four months of a six-month jail sentence and repaid DeLuca $1.2 million.
Prosecutors claimed Pugliese used DeLuca’s money for personal items, including a moat chiller to protect tropical fish swimming around his $31 million Gulf Stream mansion.
The criminal charges loomed large in this year’s civil trial. Pugliese’s attorneys didn’t hide their client’s brush with the law. During closing arguments, they even told jurors his inmate number.
But they insisted Pugliese’s intentions were righteous. They said he was simply trying to keep the massive project afloat when DeLuca reneged on promises to bankroll it — a claim DeLuca’s attorneys denied. While jurors found DeLuca breached the operating agreement, they didn’t award Pugliese any money.