Case: DeJames Builders of Florida et al v. Ahmet Sandikci
Case no.: 11-01151
Filing date: Oct. 10, 2011
Trial: Oct. 29-30, 2012
Judge: U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Michael Williamson
Plaintiffs attorney: Greg Weiss, Leopold Law Firm, West Palm Beach
Defense attorney: Joel Treuhaft, Palm Harbor Law Group, Palm Harbor
Award: $3.7 million
Details: The litigation stems from an adversarial lawsuit filed in the bankruptcy of Ahmet Sandikci, a rare currency collector who also owned and operated a car repair garage in Palm Harbor.
Dennis Detrie was a customer at the garage and became friendly with Sandikci. The two went into business together in Palm Beach, opening the Arcade Currency Palace specializing in trading rare currencies.
Detrie also invested money from his business, DeJames Builders of Florida Inc., and four other businesses. His father, brother and friend Daniel J. Schmidt also invested money.
The complaint said Detrie worked in the currency shop alongside Sandikci until he was locked out of the business Dec. 14, 2008.
Detrie then filed suit in Palm Beach Circuit Court for the return of his investment. The store remained open, but Weiss said, “One night, Sandikci sent a couple guys in a van and cleared out all the inventory in the store worth millions of dollars and emptied the safe.”
Palm Beach Circuit Judge Meenu Sasser appointed a receiver for the store assets Nov. 29, 2010.
Sandikci failed to turn over the assets, and Detrie moved for sanctions. The judge granted the motion and ordered Sandikci to pay $250,000 within 10 days or face a defaulted judgment. On the ninth day, Sandikci filed his bankruptcy petition, which gave him an automatic stay of the state court action.
Plaintiff case: In the adversarial complaint filed by Detrie and his investors, he alleged the Arcade was in essence a Ponzi scheme run by Sandikci, who locked out his partner to avoid discovery. “Sandikci didn’t want him to discover he stole money and had not spent it on operating the store,” Weiss said.
During the two-day bench trial, Weiss told Williamson that Detrie’s creditor claim shouldn’t be dischargeable.
He showed how Sandikci floated the money from one operating account to another and then into investment accounts, where he would write personal checks. “Our clients had been defrauded,” Weiss said.
The attorney said he had proof investors’ money was not spent on rare currency.
Defense case: Treuhaft argued Detrie was never a partner, simply an investor.
“Our theory was that it wasn’t a joint venture,” he said. “They didn’t share profits and operational expenses.”
He said the investment was in a commodity market that was fluctuating wildly and bottomed out when the market corrected itself in 2008. “The value went down for everybody,” he said. “It was just a risky investment that didn’t work out.”
Outcome: Williamson found Sandikci owed Detrie a fiduciary duty and did not account for his or the co-plaintiff’s investment, which was obtained under false pretenses. He ruled the judgment could not be dischargeable in Sandikci’s pending bankruptcy.
The judgment divided the money up as follows: $1.54 million to Daniel Schmidt, $728,000 to DeJames Builders of Florida Inc., $728,000 to Dennis Detrie, $400,000 to Detrie Builders Inc.; $100,000 to Detrie Construction Inc., $100,000 to Montana Inc. and $100,000 to Robert Detrie Sr.
Comments: “It is unusual. I think it’s a very hard standard to get something declared dischargeable,” Weiss said. “Mr. Sandikci employed evasive tactics in both business and litigation. However, my clients were dedicated to getting justice for his actions.”
Post-verdict: Detrie and the co-defendants are trying to collect. “There is probably some rare currency and regular currency hiding out there somewhere, so we are going to keep pursuing him,” Weiss said.