Robert Houston, accused of hijacking Sarasota business, countersues – Sarasota Herald-Tribune

The man accused in a lawsuit of hijacking a Sarasota real estate business, then mortgaging its properties for $1.3 million has countersued the company he’s accused of stealing, and has also been sued again, according to Sarasota County court files.

Robert Houston, a Parrish resident, claims he is owed more than $30,000 after seizing 21 Sarasota properties and paying the late property taxes and code enforcement fines, as well as taking out insurance policies and claiming to do repair work on them.

Houston did not buy the properties from the owner — Sarasota-based Glenco Properties Group Corp. — but instead exploited a flaw in Florida’s business records system after owners of the real estate company did not file its annual report with state officials, according to court documents.

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Houston, according to the suit, named himself the company’s chief executive in late June by filing documents with the state, then took out two loans in July and August before the actual owners of the properties became aware of what he had done when they went to pay the taxes themselves.

Houston’s countersuit denies what he did was fraudulent or broke any laws, but does not explain how that is the case or how Houston has any ownership in the 21 Sarasota  properties.

Houston alleges in the countersuit that the company he’s accused of taking over will benefit because his actions have “conferred a monetary benefit upon Glenco” and that the properties’ equity will increase because of his actions.

His court filing does not say how he obtained the properties or why he took it upon himself to insure, repair and pay delinquent taxes and fines on Glenco’s properties.

Phone calls to Houston’s attorney were not returned.

Lathrop LLC took mortgage ‘free and clear’

However, after Houston’s Bradenton attorney, E. Blake Melhuish, filed the court paperwork for the countersuit, Lathrop LLC, a Clearwater company that has also been named as a defendant in the lawsuit by Glenco, filed its own countersuit against Houston, claiming the Parrish man defrauded it.

That doesn’t mean that Lathrop agrees with Glenco that the mortgage it holds against Glenco’s properties is void. Rather, it argues that it did not know about the fraud against Glenco prior to issuing the about $550,000 loan to Houston.

“Therefore, Lathrop took the mortgage free and clear of the alleged fraud,” its court filing said.

The company also argued the mortgage should not be voided by the court because Glenco should have stopped Houston from defrauding it because it received notice from the state’s Division of Corporations about the company’s reinstatement.

Sunbiz.org accepts documents at face value

The Florida Division of Corporations manages Sunbiz.org, which is the state’s business records filing system. However, it accepts all documents submitted to it at face value, according to its website, and has no responsibility to verify the authenticity of documents submitted to it.

The state amended the law in 2018 to require notification by mail or email when a company’s officers are changed after a South Florida man was defrauded using the state database

Jim Glenn, one of the owners of Glenco, has denied receiving any notification from the state’s Division of Corporations about Houston actions reinstating Glenco.

A phone call to the attorney representing Lathrop LLC was not immediately returned. 

Glenco Properties Group Corp. is owned by 78-year-old Sarasota resident Beatrice Glenn and her son, Jim Glenn. The company filed the first lawsuit on Aug. 22 against Houston, Houston’s companies and the two mortgage lenders that had encumbered their properties.

Donald Scarlett, an attorney with the Sarasota law firm Ulrich, Scarlett, Watts & Dean representing Glenco Properties, said there are lawyers with a combined decades of experience at the Sarasota firm, but this case involving an unrelated party allegedly hijacking a business is new ground for them.

“We’ve never seen anything like this,” he said.

Glenco lawsuit amended to include accusation of civil theft

The original Glenco lawsuit had sought only to quiet title on the properties, but the Glenns’ attorney amended their complaint on Sept. 27 to accuse Houston of civil theft.

Florida law allows for civil theft victims to receive triple the amount stolen.

According to the lawsuit, Glenco Properties said the 21 properties that Houston transferred by quitclaim deed are worth $2.9 million. The lawsuit seeks $8.7 million in damages from Houston.

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Scarlett said Houston should immediately pay back the $1.3 million mortgage he took out against Glenco’s properties. He said the firm has asked Houston to do this.

“We see no explanation how he had any authority to do anything on behalf of Glenco Properties,” Scarlett said. “He has stolen the equity out of the properties. It is a crime.”

Facebook posts made after Houston allegedly secured the mortgages using Glenco’s properties as collateral appear to show spending by Houston on a new Ford F-150 that sells for more than $75,000 and a helicopter tour of the Sarasota area. 

A Marco Island-based trust is the final defendant in Glenco’s complaint. That company also placed a mortgage on the properties and must respond to the lawsuit by Oct. 31. A status hearing on the lawsuits is scheduled in December.

The Sarasota Police Department confirmed last week that the agency is still investigating the case, but declined to discuss the investigation.