Piney Point plant could be the worst scam in Florida history


Lawsuit alleges William Harley bought Piney Point with money from unsuspecting investors. That would make it one of the ploys of all time.

For too many years people have treated Piney Point as a check engine light. Ignore it, and yes, that leak in the oil pan will seal on its own.

Now look at the stain in the driveway.

This is precisely how scams are eliminated, because over the past 20 years when we barely paid attention to a potential environmental disaster, perhaps the worst ever, a man with a big stack of money continued to walk and whistle, undetected by everyone.

His name is William Harley, the man associated with the company that owns Piney Point, and it is possible that he pulled off one of the most disturbing scams in state history.

This isn’t definitely to say that Harley did anything criminal, not saying it at all, but it is to suggest that her business dealings around Piney Point at least seem suspicious and the fallout may be too great to understand. .

This was alleged in a lawsuit that Harley, a New York hedge fund manager, used money from unwitting investors to buy Piney Point in northern Manatee County in 2006 for $ 4.3 million, and that he also used a part of the $ 108 million in assets he managed to deal with the fallout from a 2011 sewage spill in Tampa Bay.

Besides: Florida Senate Advances Plan To Use $ 200 Million In Federal Stimulus To Clean Up Piney Point

Latest news: Environmental groups say Piney Point wastewater contains 10 times more nitrogen than raw sewage

EDITORIAL: Piney Point must be a wake-up call for Florida politicians

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Video: Breach of the containment wall at Piney Point in Manatee County, Florida

Congressman Vern Buchanan made an aerial tour of the Piney Point Reservoir breach, outflow pumping and Tampa Bay on Monday, April 5, 2021.

Mike Lang, Sarasota Herald-Tribune

It wasn’t just Piney Point that he bought, either. The lawsuit claimed that Harley used investor money to buy shares in Frederick’s of Hollywood, of which he was a board member, an acquisition worth $ 6 million. His purchase of a Hooters franchise, his dealings with the Cayman Islands, and his plans to start an electric car manufacturing plant in New York City with $ 56 million in federal funds guaranteed by the current Senate Majority Leader , Chuck Schumer, have also been called into question.

Now, what exactly was the purpose of a hedge fund manager to buy an abandoned phosphate mine in Palmetto and inherit all the environmental issues that go with it? Well, on the one hand, Harley got $ 17.5 million in loans from a bank that was “secured by a mortgage on land in Manatee County” which might have something to do with it. .

The original $ 10 million loan has continued to change over the years, even after Harley’s company, HRK Holdings, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2012. Harley is now a defendant in a foreclosure lawsuit over the loans.

Harley recalls Art Nadel, a Sarasota hedge fund manager who took 371 investors for nearly $ 170 million more than a decade ago. Nadel’s crimes, while terrible, were of personal significance. If Harley did use money from unsuspecting investors in an undisclosed way, say to buy Piney Point for a bank loan, it would be even worse than Nadel and the payoff would be almost too great to calculate.

Catch up: The lawsuit called into question how the hedge fund manager bought the sewage leak site Piney Point

Update: Evacuation orders and most road closures around Piney Point lifted as short-term crisis eases

Think about it: authorities will likely use $ 200 million in stimulus funds to shut down Piney Point and prevent another breach in the contaminated water pond. Millions and millions of dollars have been invested in this disaster since Harley bought it, and think how much worse it could be.

What if Piney Point causes another influx of red tide? The region, so dependent on tourism dollars, is crushed by a bloom two years ago, then COVID hits, and now another fight with the red tide? Can you imagine Can we recover?

This is all because a New York hedge fund manager bought an old phosphate mine in Palmetto with money from unsuspecting investors.

Again, that doesn’t mean Harley has committed a crime, but the next time the check engine light comes on in Manatee County, don’t ignore it for 20 years. Instead, go out and check everything under the hood.

Not just the leak.


Contact columnist Chris Anderson at [email protected]

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