Skip to comments.Stadium Naples: Rasmussen, Bob Hardy both get probation ["Punishment" for racketeering: Probation]
Posted on 01/10/2004 11:34:56 AM PST by summer
Bill Rasmussen [founder of ESPN], left, talks with Robert Hardy while the two await sentencing Friday morning at the Sarasota County Judicial Center. In the background is Rasmussens defense attorney, Jerry Berry, left, and Hardys defense attorney, Ron Hanes, center.
Stadium Naples: Rasmussen, Bob Hardy both get probation [for racketeering conspiracy]
By DENISE ZOLDAN, email@example.com
January 10, 2004
Real estate mogul Bob Hardy and Stadium Naples idea man Bill Rasmussen chatted like old friends Friday morning inside the Sarasota County Judicial Center courtroom.
Within minutes, both men would begin the final chapter the largest public corruption case in the history of Collier County [, FL]. They were the last two of 10 defendants, and two of the most significant players, to be sentenced in the 6-year-old case.
Senior Circuit Judge Stephen Dakan sentenced both to probation Friday. Hardy, 75, got three year's probation, 800 hours of community service and a $125,000 fine.
He looked spry and healthy for a man whose testimony was taken on videotape months ago in case his heart disease and cancer prevented him from surviving until the scheduled Jan. 5 trial of co-defendants John Norris and Paul Hardy, his son.
Bob Hardy had earlier pleaded no contest to racketeering conspiracy, had been adjudicated guilty and was awaiting sentencing. The trial of Norris, a former Collier County commissioner, and Paul Hardy was called off Tuesday when prosecutors agreed to drop the charges against Paul Hardy and Norris pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy and unlawful compensation.
On Friday, Dakan sentenced Rasmussen, 71, to two years probation, but imposed no fine and withheld a finding of guilt. He must pay $131 in court costs. Rasmussen had pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor counts of stock fraud in what Special Prosecutor Michael Von Zamft referred to as a related state case.
Rasmussen, founder of ESPN sports network, admitted to misleading investors in the second failed attempt to create Stadium Naples when he hooked up with A.S. Goldmen & Co. A.S. Goldmen owner Anthony Marchiano was later found guilty in New York state court of manipulating a number of small company stocks, including Stadium Naples partner Millennium Sports Management Inc.
But Rasmussen and his attorney, Jerry Berry, painted Rasmussen as a victim on Friday.
"These charges have been devastating. Since these charges were filed, wherever he goes, they follow him," Berry said, adding that Rasmussen used to be booked as a public speaker but now cannot get work.
Prior scheduled speaking engagements were canceled after the charges were filed.
"The punishment is huge," Berry said.
He said a well-known and respected Naples attorney had recommended that Rasmussen take the Stadium Naples concept to A.S. Goldmen after the first try at Stadium Naples collapsed in July 1997 when the public learned that Norris was to get a no-money down stake in the deal valued at up to $7.5 million and a $80,000 annual consulting fee and lifetime golf membership.
Stadium Naples was to be a spectator golf arena, and home to the Senior PGA golf tournament. The 10 Stadium Naples co-defendants were charged with conspiring to deprive the citizens of Collier County of the honest services of public officials by swapping financial incentives for votes and influence favorable to their projects.
Rasmussen, looking strong and fit, told Dakan that his retirement and the end of his life have been ruined by the charges. He and Berry said that he had had a successful and varied career for 45 years, had helped children's charities and given thousands of people jobs.
"My reputation was destroyed in the blink of an eye on Oct. 11, 2001," Rasmussen said of the day he was arrested and charged in the case.
He appeared to take no responsibility for his role in the events.
"I am proud of Stadium Naples. I am sorry for the confusion, disruption and furor," he said.
He went on to say that events occurred over which "I had no control."
When Berry tried to say that the charges to which Rasmussen pleaded were unrelated to the Stadium Naples public corruption case, Von Zamft spoke up to set the record straight. Rasmussen had been charged in the public corruption case, Von Zamft said, and the charges were dropped as part of the plea bargain, but Rasmussen was involved.
According to witness statements, Rasmussen used Norris to persuade PGA Tour operators to give Rasmussen control of the Naples Senior PGA golf tournament in 1997 and 1998. No more county money would flow to the tournament unless Rasmussen was in control, Norris told the PGA. Then without revealing the relationship between the two, Norris voted to give Rasmussen's nonprofit Challenge Foundation $500,000 in tourist tax money for the tournament and to waive the contract-required audits to prevent misspent funds from becoming public.
Later, Rasmussen gave a $770,550 oversized check to the Quest for Kids scholarship charity. The check bounced and Rasmussen's nonprofit Challenge Foundation closed with more than $1 million debt.
Rasmussen, who Von Zamft said is broke, was not fined. He now lives in New Jersey and will be permitted to report to Collier County Probation Department through the mail if the probation department wants to handle his reporting in that manner.
Hardy, who chose to make no statement to Dakan, will perform 800 hours of community service at the Rev. David Mallory's Campus of Care for the homeless in East Naples. Hardy himself will donate his time and developer talents to Mallory's center. Mallory's homeless center was crippled by one co-defendant in the case, convicted swindler David Mobley, who was a partner and the Stadium Naples financier.
Mobley contributed more than $1 million of unwitting investors' money to the Campus of Care, and Mallory used it to buy land and put in infrastructure. When Mobley confessed his crimes to the feds, the court-appointed receiver sued the church organization, which has to pay the money back. It was [defendant] Hardy's idea to donate 800 hours of community service rather than serve four years probation and eight months of house arrest, which was the previously agreed-upon plea deal.
Hardy, the developer of upscale neighborhoods such as Quail West Golf and Country Club, Quail Creek, Longshore Lakes and Old Cypress entered a plea deal with prosecutors because of his ill health. During Hardy's videotaped testimony, he admitted paying Norris several thousand dollars as part of a finder's fee for locating property.
He also paid $20,000 of Norris' attorney's fees, gave Norris' son a job and gave former County Commissioner Tim Constantine a half-priced wedding reception and participated in the $100,000 Educorp loan for which Constantine was sentenced to one year in jail.
Bob Hardy was also the one who introduced his son Paul Hardy to Norris and Rasmussen to develop Stadium Naples.
Hardy said little during his sentencing, telling the judge he had nothing to say. Neither he nor his attorney, Ron Hanes, would answer reporters' questions.
"It's over," is all Hanes would say.
Hardy's $125,000 will be paid to the following agencies: $2,000 to Miami-Dade Police; $58,000 to the 11th Judicial Circuit for the RICO trust fund; $5,000 to the 11th Judicial Circuit's State Attorney's Office; $20,000 to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement; $20,000 to the Collier County government; and $20,000 to the 20th Judicial Circuit.
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What the heck is this? When I left Naples in '88, there wasn't a single homeless person in town. Now they're inviting them in? What's happened to the crime rate? I seriously want to know as one of my New Years resolutions is to get down to Naples and decide whether I want to move back.
As for rich retired racketeers, Naples has always had its share but I think most get tossed in jail. And when I was there, a son of the Benson family of Benson & Hedges was convicted of murdering the rest of his family by blowing up their car in the driveway so he could be the sole heir. Nice people.
??????Is he a holdover from the Childs' era????
(Sniffle), Gosh, he's a "victim." Who woulda guessed? I'm all broken up about it (sob.)
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