days you earn your reputation.
Given the circumstances, “scumbag” was too high a
compliment. A scumbag who represents another scumbag is undeserving of
such tepid vitriol.
On six previous occasions
Gordon Knott came to me for help to bail him out of his latest mess.
But I can honestly say I’m surprised that Gordon was, in fact, guilty.
I merely never considered the possibility. He had an ironclad alibi.
The state’s witnesses, each
with a sadder story than the last, made a compelling case that he was a
scam artist who had taken their hard-earned money. The state charged
him with fraud, alleging that Gordon had sold his victims a stake in a
phony real estate development.
I don’t usually handle
criminal matters; they’re too dicey and it’s tough to make a living from
small-time criminals who have neither the means nor the inclination to
pay you – win or lose. But, I made an exception for Gordon. He was,
after all, something of a rainmaker for me. He threw regular work my
way: real estate closings, loan documents, deeds and covenants,
commercial leases, and just about all the light corporate work a solo
guy like me could handle. The thing is, this was a real development.
Gordon imagined himself a
real estate guru. But that was a stretch. There was very little that
was real about his development empire. Just enough so that when
he took prospects out for a “look,” they’d come away sufficiently
satisfied to think that they were about to buy into something promising.
Like Knotty Pines.
“Knotty Pines,” the glossy
brochure said, “promises to be the premier lifestyle community on
Loxahatchee Shoals. Choice sites available. Lock in now.” The
prosecutor who read the brochure into evidence aptly noted for the jury,
“The ‘Pines’ continues the tradition for which Gordon Knott, the South’s
preeminent developer, is known. Whether you choose luxurious southern
living or prime investment property, Gordon promises to overlook no
detail.” Trouble is, the statement is literally true. Gordon didn’t
look over a single thing. He left the details to me. As it turns out,
all except for one.
Gordon was a salesman who
sold promises and dreams. But he always explained the risks.
“It’s rare. But these deals sometimes fall apart and leave you with
nothing,” he warned them. In fact, that was just about the only thing
I had to ask on cross-examination.
Velda Cooper, who told the
saddest story about how her husband took his own life when their
lifelong savings dwindled to nothing and how she lost her house and had
to give up her dog, Woody, to the pound because the efficiency she moved
into wouldn’t allow pets, had to concede that, yes, Gordon did
warn them about the risks. She just never believed it could happen.
She held out for the promise of living the good life on Loxahatchee
Shoals. “Speculative risk in the real estate market,” I explained with
just enough well-practiced empathy in my closing argument.
True, there is no Knotty
Pines on Loxahatchee Shoals where Velda Cooper and her husband’s
retirement home and barking Woody ought to be. It was only a vision
Gordon sold. As for the property itself, those 150 acres of wetlands
and weeds were the sole holdings of one of Gordon’s companies I set up.
When I found out the property could actually be developed, I transferred
the title to my name and sold the land for a tidy sum. I was still
waiting for my check and the last of the paperwork to clear when we went
to trial. So I knew Gordon couldn’t be guilty of defrauding any of the
Shoals investors. The jury got it right. Or so I thought - until I got
back to the office.
My secretary, Wanda, handed
me a fat brown envelope with a stack of printouts of recorded deed
transfers and title searches and a letter explaining the delay. It
seems that the property had been sold the day before I made my deal.
The timing of the transactions had confused the records custodians at
the Loxahatchee County Clerk’s office and it had taken several weeks to
straighten things out. But there it was.
That scumbag Gordon Knott had
gone and sold Loxahatchee Shoals right out from under me. He had, in
fact, taken their money and their dreams.
The bar’s code of ethics says
I can’t report him. But I do plan to collect my fee in full.