This week, Historic City News learned that three members of the Saint Augustine Tea Party have brought a lawsuit in St Johns County Small Claims Court against three members of St Augustine Tea Party, Inc., and Wells Fargo Bank; seeking the return of money they say was taken without the consent of its rightful owners.
Saint Augustine Tea Party, represented in the lawsuit by Chairman David P. Heimbold, Treasurer Lance L. Thate, and Esther L. Miller, Secretary of the un-incorporated grassroots political organization, filed suit September 18 naming Randy Covington, Eric West, Edith Russo and Wells Fargo Bank NA as defendants.
The Saint Augustine Tea Party group has spent $460 in filing and civil process service fees to bring forward this complaint; however, according to Thate, “We have done everything in our power to straighten this thing out.”
The dispute between the two Tea Party organizations goes back to 2010 when a decision was made by Eric West to incorporate the group and serve as its initial registered agent. West, Randy Covington and Lance Thate were named as the directors of the not-for-profit St Augustine Tea Party, Inc in an electronically signed filing with the Florida Division of Corporations on October 25, 2010.
Thate, who is one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, claims that the corporation was improperly formed by West; done without approval of the membership. Further, Thate told Historic City News that he believes the formation of the corporation was to abscond with thousands of dollars in the treasury of the un-incorporated group.
Thate wrote in a statement today that he and Esther Miller were the two properly elected officers, with West, who would have been required to sign incorporation papers. Thate claims that West falsely switched the third name on the documents from Miller to Randy Covington; who Thate says was never elected an officer.
Heimbold, Thate and Miller allege that West and Covington conspired to control 2 of the 3 officers of the incorporated Tea Party; and, contradictory to the requirements of Florida corporation law, they failed to permit an organizational meeting of the incorporated entity by its members, and further, without proper notice, they held a private meeting to replace Thate as treasurer.
Thate supplied the court with a copy of an inter-bank memo dated September 12, 2011 that he says confirms that he, acting as the properly elected treasurer and primary signer of the checking account, put a hold on the funds in the organizations account until the matter could be brought before the membership and to specifically prevent West and Covington from diverting the money.
Despite the documented “account hold” on the un-incorporated entity’s bank account, Saint Augustine Tea Party is saying that Wells Fargo Bank officials “failed to perform due diligence” in that they released $6,250.00 to the corporation representatives (West, Covington, and Russo) without communicating with the person who originally placed the hold (Thate).
The amount of damages being sought by Heimbold, Thate and Miller on behalf of the Saint Augustine Tea Party and its members, is $5,000 plus court costs. The plaintiffs are also seeking the removal of the defendants from the corporate entity, “St. Augustine Tea Party, Inc.” and that the plaintiffs are allowed to replace them. The plaintiffs also want the court to order the defendants to turn over inventories of tea shirts, books, lapel pins, flags and certain other merchandise that they claim was taken from the organization without consent.
There is a pre-trial hearing scheduled before Judge Charles Tinlin on October 23 at 2:00 p.m., however, according to Rhonda Sara, the judge’s administrative assistant, the time or date may change. The court filing, consisting of a four-page complaint and some 62 additional pages, comprising twelve numbered attachments, stands an inch-thick off the desk, according to Judge Tinlin’s office.