Polo developer dates women, then sues them
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Mega-developer Glenn Straub is a proud, hard-nosed businessman with a reputation as a litigious bulldog quick to pounce with lawsuits over broken deals and delinquent debts.
But two former girlfriends say he’s dragging them into court over a more personal breach — a broken heart.
Former Wellington resident Jessica Nicodemo, 34, and Lacy K. Bridges, 24, of Charleston, S.C,, accuse Straub, 72, of filing frivolous lawsuits against them as revenge for breaking off romantic relationships with him, court documents show.
Nicodemo’s accusations are also part of a criminal investigation into whether Straub, spurned by her efforts to break up with him, physically threatened her and directed Palm Beach Polo to file fraudulent liens against properties she owned in Loxahatchee Groves and Wellington.
Gov. Rick Scott transferred the criminal case to the Broward County State Attorney’s Office last year because Nicodemo and Straub are friends with Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg and his ex-wife, Lynn Aronberg — both of whom are witnesses in the civil case.
Nicodemo, whose civil counterclaim includes copies of revealing text messages, said she and Bridges are not the only women Straub has dated and then targeted with lawsuits.
Three other younger women, including a former Mrs. Florida, have been sued by Straub companies since 2013 over alleged debts or eviction from his yacht. In those cases, the women did not raise a spurned-lover defense.
Straub, owner of Palm Beach Polo and Country Club in Wellington, said he dated the women and had intimate relationships with some of them, according to a deposition. But he said his company, Palm Beach Polo Inc., sued because they failed to either repay loans, pay for work done by Palm Beach Polo or return company-owned jewelry, clothes and credit cards.
“I’m not a romanticist. I’m a business person. You do something, I charge you for it. You do not pay your bills, I send you a bill and my people know how to put liens on things because we do it all the time,” said Straub, who has been divorced since 2007 and has two adult daughters.
“This ‘me too’ thing, that’s pretty much what this case is around, and it’s not right,” he said, referring to the #MeToo movement of accusations of unwanted sexual contact against powerful men over the past two years.
But Nicodemo and Bridges are not accusing him of unwanted sexual contact. They’re accusing him of retaliation.
“He will loan money to vulnerable women. And if they cross him, if they won’t date him or won’t have sex with him, if they break up with him, that’s when he takes legal action,” said Palm Beach Gardens attorney Elizabeth Parker, who represents Nicodemo.
“It’s stalking through the courts.”
Glenn Straub: Once called himself ‘a dictator’
No stranger to controversy, Straub is one of the most successful real estate developers in Palm Beach County, a builder, investor and a lender with a talent for mining gold from distressed properties and a penchant for butting heads with opponents big and small.
“We turn around sick companies, like a doctor does for a patient,” said Straub, a West Virginia native who built his fortune from asphalt and concrete companies he acquired in the Ohio Valley steel region after inheriting, at the age of 17, his late father’s transportation businesses.
In one of his biggest local coups, he bought the 2,250-acre Palm Beach Polo Club in Wellington at a government auction for $27 million in 1993, rescuing the then-backwater development from financial ruin and making millions by flipping more than 600 acres.
Today, Palm Beach Polo a world-class community that has attracted visits from the British royal family and boasts celebrity homeowners such as Bruce Springsteen, Bill Gates and Michael Bloomberg.
“I’m a hands-on operations person who kind of gives inspiration to the company,” said Straub, who once owned the now-demolished Miami Arena and recently made millions flipping the Revel Casino (now called Ocean Resort Casino) in Atlantic City.
Along the way, he has forged connections to powerful people, including Aronberg, Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Jeffrey Colbath and President Donald Trump.
But he can be pugnacious and polarizing, too. “I’m a dictator,” he said at a property owners association meeting 20 years ago after a homeowner questioned his development plans.
One day last summer, he caused a stir when he arrived at Palm Beach Polo’s gated entrance. “Straub refused to show his ID and drove his brown Bentley convertible coupe through the gate, causing the gate arm to fall off,” a deputy said in a July Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office report, which noted “this is not the first incident they had with Straub.”
He reminisces about alleged scrapes with the Ohio Mafia in the 1970s, and he once described going to court against the government as “a little hobby of mine.”
Nothing is off limits when Straub picks a court fight, whether it’s against equestrian developer Mark Bellissimo for failing to provide Straub with the best tables at horse events, the village of Wellington for flooding his land, or the New Jersey gaming commission over a casino license.
“I will not run from anybody,” he replied when asked in a deposition this summer about his penchant for litigation. “Do I enjoy it? I just won’t run from it. I’m not going to give in.”
He tries to downplay perceptions of his influence. “I’m just a little guy from Wheeling, West Virginia,” he told The Palm Beach Post.
Although he and his companies own luxury cars, a 160-foot yacht and property around the world, he said he loves to fly the no-frill Spirit Airlines — and not just because of its nonstop flights from Fort Lauderdale to Atlantic City. “I can save a lot,” he said in a deposition. “That’s how stingy I am.”
As for his social life, Straub, who plays polo and tennis, said he goes out almost every night because he doesn’t like to cook.
If he’s not hanging out with friends at favorite haunts like Twin Peaks in West Palm Beach or Meat Market in Palm Beach, he said he goes out on dinner dates.
“I’ve dated in 10 years over 15 young ladies,” Straub said in a deposition, adding that he often offers life advice to his friends’ adult children.
“I probably see myself as a senior trying to help the juniors around to get up through life and do certain things,” he said, “but when they are contaminated with drinking, it’s a lot harder.”
Straub says he has remained friendly with many of the women he has dated.
Five of them might feel differently.
Jessica Nicodemo: Chance meeting on a flight
Nicodemo said she met Straub more than 10 years ago when she started dating Kevin Swerdlin, the son of prominent Wellington veterinarian Scott Swerdlin.
When she married Kevin Swerdlin in 2011, Straub — a longtime friend of Scott Swerdlin — attended the wedding. She said she often took trips to the Florida Keys with the Swerdlin family on Straub’s yacht.
After her marriage fell apart, she said she ran into Straub on a flight from New York in 2015. She said she was an emotional wreck at the time because of her divorce and Straub lent her a sympathetic ear.
Straub said she mentioned financial difficulties from her divorce. They started talking to each other regularly and eventually started seeing each other.
“He was there for me during a time that I would consider the lowest in my life,” Nicodemo wrote on her Facebook page in August.
She said Straub took her to Atlantic City, and to Casa Campo, a seaside resort in the Dominican Republic owned by the Fanjul sugar growers of Palm Beach. She also said she dined with Straub and then-candidate Donald Trump at least twice at Mar-a-Lago.
She said she loved Straub and claimed they talked about marriage, which Straub denies.
They had gotten so close, she said, that Straub offered to do free work on her properties. Between Sept. 1 and Nov. 15, 2016, Palm Beach Polo performed $77,000 of construction and yard work at her Loxahatchee Groves house and remodeling, landscaping and pool and patio repair at her Wellington townhouse, according to the company’s lawsuit.
At no time did Straub ever ask for money for the work, which he “gratuitously offered” because they were dating, she said in court records.
‘Assault’ at a Wellington home
By late 2016, Nicodemo said she was trying to spend less time with Straub so she could focus on her professional life. She owns Pet Dental Services in Lake Worth. She also heads up two animal charities, as president of Pet Haven Rescue and co-founder of the Coalition for Animal Rescue.
Straub got jealous, she said, and the relationship soured.
When she tried to break up, she said Straub threatened to harm her physically and financially by placing liens on her property. She said she was too afraid at the time to report her allegations to law enforcement.
In January 2017, Palm Beach Polo filed liens against her properties. The company sued her two months later. The lawsuit included copies of work invoices from November 2016 that Nicodemo said she’d never seen before.
Nine days after Polo sued her, she called PBSO to complain that Straub had threatened her five months earlier.
A heavily redacted police report says deputies responded to an accusation by Nicodemo of an “assault” that took place on Nov. 3, 2016, at a Wellington home. Property records list the home’s owner as Tara Lordi, who works for Straub. The report does not identify an assailant. Under weapon, the report listed “threat/intimidation.”
The complaint is part of the criminal investigation of Straub that was transferred to Broward County State Attorney Michael Satz in May 2017 by Gov. Scott. Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg, who requested the transfer, would not comment.
Dave and Lynn Aronberg divorced on Aug. 14, 2017, after less than two years of marriage. During their separation, Lynn Aronberg, a former Miami Dolphins cheerleader, lived part of the time with Nicodemo.
Satz’s office would not comment, citing an ongoing investigation.
Straub denied threatening Nicodemo and said he expects to be vindicated. But he has raised questions about PBSO’s handling of the case.
‘Rogue deputies’ cleared after IA probe
After PBSO started investigating Nicodemo’s accusations last year, Straub filed complaints with PBSO in December about the lead detective and two other deputies who are friends with Nicodemo.
Straub accused the three “rogue” deputies of orchestrating “illegal” wiretap recordings of two phone calls between Nicodemo and Straub “to put pressure on Palm Beach Polo to settle the lawsuit,” PBSO records show.
Lead detective Vance Harper recorded the calls with Nicodemo’s consent, records say, a common tactic in criminal investigations and permissible under state law. Straub learned that the calls had been recorded when Nicodemo mentioned it during a civil deposition in November 2017.
All three deputies were cleared of wrongdoing this year after an internal affairs investigation, which noted that Straub’s complaint “omitted” the fact that Nicodemo is his former girlfriend.
On Aug. 3, Nicodemo filed a counterclaim accusing Straub and Palm Beach Polo treasurer Sal Spano of conspiring to file false liens to prevent her from selling her properties and “moving away” after she “made attempts to end the personal relationship and Straub’s advances.”
The counterclaim includes copies of nearly 50 text messages allegedly sent by Straub to Nicodemo between January and April 2017. Among them:
— “The first day you don’t check in is the first day I put a leon (lien) on your house. Then try to sell it.”
— “Can’t understand why you would want to test me. When only a call would have saved you from a boatload of trouble. I have no guilt now you deserve everything you get. Wrong move but you’re Italian and deserve what you get. One chance. Call.”
— “You know me that I have to win to teach people and I cant Waite (sic) so let talk on how I can bend without both us killing each other. Please.”
Straub, who said Nicodemo shared only a portion of their texts, asked why she didn’t simply block him on her phone if she was so afraid of him.
Nicodemo told The Post, “It should be irrelevant whether or not I blocked him. He should just leave me alone.”
Straub denied ever threatening Nicodemo with physical violence and, in his deposition, he offered a different take on their relationship, describing it as “on and off depending on the alcohol content.”
Nicodemo was the “greatest girl to go out to dinner with and all of a sudden once she gets two or three drinks in her, the person changes. She gets four drinks in her, I’m a no-good SOB and I done all these things to her life to make her miserable,” he said.
He also made references to problems Nicodemo had with her own family.
PBSO records show Nicodemo was arrested on domestic violence charges in July 2017 after allegedly hitting her sister. The State Attorney’s Office declined to prosecute. Records show two other domestic calls that year involving the Nicodemo sisters; no arrests were made in those cases.
Referring to her allegations, Straub said in a deposition, “This is an old man being semi-hustled by a much younger girl, and I think the world knows what that means.”
Nicodemo told The Post: “Glenn Straub is a billionaire who buys and sells companies, holds himself out to be a cut-throat businessman, and he is letting a girl that he dates hustle him? Does that even make sense?”
Ashley Maguire: Former Mrs. Florida ‘manipulated’ Polo
Five months after Palm Beach Polo sued Nicodemo, the company sued Ashley Maguire of Wellington.
The $250,000 lawsuit, filed in August 2017, accuses Maguire, 33, of failing to follow through on an arrangement to “use her beauty and charm in assisting with selling expensive country club memberships, sponsorships and promotions.”
Maguire, Mrs. Florida 2008, told Palm Beach Polo she was having financial problems “because she was going through a divorce and her husband had cut off her finances and eliminated her luxurious lifestyle,” the suit says.
Maguire “manipulated” Polo to advance her more than $41,000 in cash, clothes and accessories, and also paid her more than $100,000 to help her lease a home at Palm Beach Polo and drive a luxury car, Straub’s company said in the suit. But Maguire “never commenced a single day of work.”
She later repaid $6,200 in cash and $35,000 given to her for clothes and accessories, but not the rest of the money the company “advanced” to her, according to the suit.
The suit also alleges that Polo “later discovered” that Maguire “had a history of ‘socializing’ with and manipulating older, wealthy men,” allegations that were not detailed further in the suit.
Maguire has not filed a response to the charges, and court records do not mention a romantic relationship with Straub.
Straub, in the deposition, said he couldn’t remember whether he dated Maguire. “Whatever it was, it was very short,” he said.
In an interview with The Post, Straub said he thinks he took Maguire on a trip to Napa, Calif., while she was separated.
Maguire’s attorney, Michael Pike, declined to comment.
Although Maguire’s husband filed for divorce in March 2017, he later withdrew the petition.
Lacy K. Bridges: Straub tried to ‘woo her with gift’
On April 10, 13 months after suing Nicodemo and eight months after suing Maguire, Palm Beach Polo sued Bridges, a South Carolina woman who had spent time in South Florida.
Straub said he met Bridges at a Palm Beach sushi bar early this year. “She’s pretty young. I didn’t date her that long, that’s for sure,” he told The Post.
Polo’s lawsuit accuses Bridges of taking $7,000 worth of jewelry and clothes owned by the company and of using a company credit card without permission.
Bridges denied the charges. In court documents in August, her attorney said she was “briefly involved in a romantic relationship” this year with Straub, who “being significantly older than Bridges” attempted “to woo her with gifts” and then “vindictively” filed the false claims after she broke up with him.
Straub said in a deposition that he took Bridges shopping in Miami Beach for clothes that were to be kept on his yacht. The clothes, he said, were “for events we have for a lot of people because she’s about the same size as all those girls.”
In a court document, Bridges’ attorney Jonathan Milling said: “Straub and Polo have demonstrated a history of vindictive, baseless and frivolous litigation directed at former lovers which serves as an abuse of the legal process.”
The document mentions two other women in that “history,” Nicodemo and Maguire.
It’s not clear why Bridges, in her court filing, describes Maguire as a former lover of Straub’s when court records in Maguire’s case don’t mention a romantic relationship. Bridges and Milling would not comment.
Parker, Nicodemo’s attorney, told The Post that former Straub girlfriends have reached out to her after reading news reports of Palm Beach Polo’s lawsuit against her client. Parker would not identify those women.
But Parker questioned Straub in a deposition in August about his relationships with other women, including Bridges, Maguire, Sarah Scheffer and Tiffany Richtmyer.
Sarah Scheffer: Sued over $17,500 loan
Scheffer, a Stuart woman who attends Palm Beach and Wellington society events, was sued by Palm Beach Polo in 2013 for not paying back $17,500 the company loaned her to help her launch a business.
The loan was part of an arrangement in which Scheffer was supposed to perform “certain professional services for Polo,” including membership matters at Polo’s affiliated Tesoro golf complex in Port St. Lucie, according to the lawsuit, which names Scheffer’s company, Identity Designs LLC, as a co-defendant.
Scheffer, 41, told Polo “she needed the loan because it would prove to her significant other that she was capable of operating a legitimate business without his help, that her significant other would be able to focus on certain personal dependency matters if he knew she was capable of making a living on her own, and the business would give some legitimacy to her status as a single mother with two children,” according to the lawsuit.
The “significant other” is not identified in court records.
“Scheffer communicated to Polo that she was sure that this loan would cause her significant other to ask her to marry before the end of the year and she would be able to repay the loan,” the suit says.
The court records do not mention a romantic relationship between Straub and Scheffer, who works with Lynn Aronberg at life coach Roy Assad’s Human Capital Group. She also has done marketing work for Lynora’s Italian restaurants.
A judge ruled in favor of Polo in August 2014.
When Straub was asked in a deposition if he was ever in a relationship with Scheffer, he replied: “I probably went out to dinner with her or something. Romantic? I don’t think. If it was, it was a very short period of time.”
Scheffer said in a brief interview, “It’s definitely in the past. It’s not something I want to open up again.”
Tiffany Richtmyer: Evicted from Straub’s yacht
Richtmyer, 46, owns Apollo 14 Sport Horses LLC in Montana. At one time, the company operated from a farm in the gated Equus Equestrian Center at Straub’s Polo West Golf Club in suburban Boynton Beach.
Straub, who said he once dated Richtmyer, said he loaned her about $300,000 for horses and a stall but foreclosed on her in 2017 after she failed to pay it back. In February, he evicted her from Equus and from living on his yacht, MV Huntress, at Palm Harbor Marina in West Palm Beach.
Richtmyer never paid rent and was evicted because her “behavior, especially when she drinks alcohol and becomes drunk, is disruptive, abusive and causes disturbances,” according to a lawsuit filed by Polo West and Trinity 161 Ltd.
Richtmyer, who declined to comment, never offered a defense. A judge ordered her eviction on April 2.
Four months later, though, she was living in a Wellington home owned by Straub. On Aug. 4, Richtmyer called PBSO to complain that Straub had walked into the Pebblewood Drive residence “unannounced” and without permission.
Straub, who was there when PBSO arrived, told a deputy to evict her. But after Richtmyer produced a rental agreement, the deputy told Straub it was a civil matter to be handled in court.
“Straub did not like that answer and made reference to knowing the mayor of Wellington,” the deputy wrote.
“I explained to Straub that this matter was not an issue for the mayor to be involved with. Straub then made reference to having numerous IA (internal affairs) cases done against deputies. I asked Straub if he was trying to threaten or intimidate me to sway my decision. He did not answer.”
The report says Straub drove off without retrieving his driver’s license from the deputy.
Information from: The Palm Beach (Fla.) Post, http://www.pbpost.com