WARREN - The defendants in a rare civil racketeering lawsuit are now accusing a prominent Warren businessman of trying to use the case to get a low price on downtown property, and his attorney of using the case to carry out a vendetta.
The attorney, Richard Goodman, countered with an accusation of intimidation against him and Sunrise Inn owner Ken Haidaris, the prominent Warren businessman he represents.
The latest salvo appears in hundreds of pages of motions and came out during a hearing last week in Trumbull County Common Pleas Court. The hearing was held to determine whether Haidaris must pay the defendants' legal fees for the now-settled lawsuit that was filed under the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act and the Ohio Corrupt Practices Act.
Haidaris sued Robert Cregar, a downtown Warren landlord and owner of All-American Big Bob's Bail Bonding, Joseph Sankey, former owner of the building that housed the violence-plagued Sunset Lounge and a former bondsman for Big Bob's, and LaShawn Ziegler, owner of the Sunset and Dream Team Productions, which he housed inside a Cregar building.
Haidaris accused the three of conspiring to ruin the Sunrise Inn and redirect money to Cregar's bail bonding business. He asked for $3.7 million.
The lawsuit was dismissed after Haidaris achieved his goal of preventing the conspirators from reopening the Sunset Lounge, Goodman said. The building, across Elm Road from the Sunrise, has been sold to The Movement church.
Cregar's attorney, Martin F. White, said it was personal for Goodman, who had previous legal dealings with Cregar. The lawsuit ''certainly was motivated by evidentiary reasons,'' White said.
''This is a horrible lawsuit with the worst kind of allegations that can be made against a person's character,'' he said.
White also noted that Haidaris had made a $38,000 offer on the property, which The Movement purchased in September for $140,000. Goodman denies that the lawsuit was filed to lowball the price for the property, calling the allegation ''totally misplaced.''
The offer made by Haidaris ''was the prevailing price of other properties in the downtown area,'' Goodman said. Haidaris talked to an appraiser and did ''all the due diligence that he could possibly do.''
As far as any sort of vendetta, not so, Goodman said.
''I have been involved in litigation with Mr. Cregar, I don't carry grudges,'' Goodman said. ''It would be ridiculous to assume I carry a grudge against Mr. Cregar.''
White said he gave Haidaris and Goodman an opportunity to drop the lawsuit less than a month after the case was filed in March of 2013, writing to Goodman that Cregar ''will chalk it up to a misunderstanding and will not seek reimbursement for legal fees.''
Don't dismiss, White wrote, and ''when Cregar prevails, I will seek reimbursement for all of his legal fees and expenses and I will be filing an action against your client for abuse of process and other remedies.''
Goodman characterized White's attempt to recoup Cregar's legal fees as intimidation.
Sankey's attorney, Gil Blair, and Ziegler's lawyer, Sarah Kovoor, also lined up to seek sanctions against Haidaris and Goodman. They also claim the lawsuit was frivolous and that their clients should be awarded legal fees.
Now, the matter is in the hands of visiting Judge Lee Sinclair, retired from Stark County Common Pleas Court, who's read ''every scrap of paper,'' ''press clipping'' and ''email that was filed back and forth,'' heard arguments and should have a decision in the next week.
A settlement was reached with Sankey before the hearing, however details were not released.
White did most of the talking during the hearing, arguing Cregar had ''absolutely nothing'' to do - zero ownership interest or connection to the building the bar occupied, according to a court file - with running the Sunset Lounge and that the media attention the lawsuit received caused him ''enormous embarrassment.''
Kovoor said the lawsuit, in ''every way and form,'' was defamatory for Ziegler, who had previously received public notoriety for a felony drug conviction and violence, including murders, at several bars that he owned.
In October, Goodman floated to the parties a ''one-time global settlement proposal'' that would have reimbursed Haidaris for his legal fees and transferred to him property on Elm Road that Cregar has since transferred to Ziegler. Haidaris would agree to the transfer of the liquor license used to run the Sunset Lounge provided it would not be ''in close proximity'' to the restaurant, a letter in the file shows.
White responded in an email: ''I am trying hard to be polite. There is no chance that Cregar will ever voluntarily pay any money to your client or pay your attorney fees . . .'' promising again to seek reimbursement of legal fees and sanctions ''for the consequences he has suffered from this lawsuit. End of discussion.''
In a motion filed before Thursday's hearing, Goodman argued that none of the defendants provided evidence to support their claims for sanctions. Also, they should be precluded from seeking sanctions because they ''sat on their respective hands'' from the beginning of the lawsuit. None filed a counterclaim based on the allegations or in their defense raised the issue to the court, according to Goodman's motion.
White responded that the only redress for Cregar, who incurred more than $15,000 in legal fees, are sanctions provided in Ohio law. Goodman failed to cite a case in support of his argument ''because no supportive case exists'' and that it's ''well established'' that a claim of frivolous conduct should be done when the case is concluded, not by counterclaim, White wrote.