Palmetto Bay Village Council candidate David Zisman, running on his “40 years of business experience,” has had two business bankruptcies.
That was one of the findings from routine background checks conducted by the Miami Herald of the candidates up for election next month.
The Herald also found that mayoral candidate Patrick Fiore, when he was on a local zoning board, made at least $180,000 flipping properties he had purchased from a developer who routinely appeared before the board.
Mayoral candidate Peter England, when he worked at a local nonprofit group, was once accused by a former coworker of pressuring other employees to donate to political candidates and then reimbursing them through the nonprofit. The accusation came in a lawsuit against the nonprofit. England was not sued personally, and the case was settled out of court.
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And candidate James Archie Shedd, who previously ran for Miami-Dade County property appraiser, was found by the state elections commission to have violated a rule on campaign-finance reporting, but not fined.
Background checks of the other five Village Council candidates found no issues of note.
Village Council candidate David Zisman has been touting his business acumen during the campaign.
“I’m here to pledge to you tonight — I’m never going to raise taxes,” he said at a Sept. 30 candidate forum. “We don’t need to raise taxes, we just need to manage our finances. We need to bring a business point of view to this council — and that’s what I bring. Forty years of business experience.”
In 2012 and 2013, Zisman filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcies on two of his businesses, which deal in barbecue equipment, Jacuzzi baths and kitchen appliances.
The 2013 bankruptcy, filed in November, was for Evening’s Delight Inc. According to Zisman, the bankruptcy was purely “administrative.”
“Evening’s Delight has never been in financial trouble. Ever, ever, ever. [It’s] all about consolidating the corporations,” he said.
But before that bankruptcy was filed — the proceedings are still ongoing — two creditors named in the bankruptcy filed lawsuits for unpaid debts and received judgments in their favor.
Vent-a-Hood, a Texas-based kitchen hood manufacturer, won $62,313 plus $12,882 in attorney’s fees in October 2010 when it sued Evening’s Delight in a Texas state court.
Samuel, Son & Co., a metals distributor, won $29,171 in damages from Evening’s Delight in June 2013.
Asked about the lawsuits, Zisman said they did not indicate he had any problem paying back vendors. He said he had called to let them know he would be filing for bankruptcy, and that they had opted to sue just to make sure the bankruptcy wouldn’t allow him not to pay them back.
“I let them know what was going on; they were merely protecting themselves. And they did that. And if you pull the court records, you’ll see I didn’t even have a defense. I just let them do what they wanted to do,” Zisman said. “They’re getting paid back as we speak.”
According to Vent-a-Hood president William Miles Woodall III, Zisman filed for bankruptcy after Vent-a-Hood tried to prove that Zisman had shifted assets to another Evening’s Delight company to get out of paying the debt.
Vent-a-hood did not sue because Zisman had warned them of the bankruptcy, Woodall said. It’s the other way around, he said.
“He filed for bankruptcy because we started deposing his family,” he said. “There’s no question he did it to get out of what he owed us.”
Pressed as to why the vendors were not paid between the time they received judgments in their favor and when the bankruptcy was filed — just over three years elapsed between Vent-a-Hood’s initial judgment and the bankruptcy filing — Zisman stopped answering questions.
“I told you already, this is a story about nothing. You and the Herald are trying to do a hatchet job on me. I don’t appreciate it. Please do a story on a real event. My business is in business; I’m doing well. Thank you very much.”
In response to Zisman’s comment that Vent-a-Hood was in the process of being paid back, Woodall said he had just talked to his lawyer, who had been in touch with the bankruptcy trustee. Zisman is offering $25,000. “A small pittance,” he said, compared to what he’s owed.
According to the bankruptcy filing, outstanding debts to Vent-a-Hood now total $89,480.
The 2012 bankruptcy, filed that April, concerned Luxury Kitchen Hoods LLC, a company Zisman incorporated in 2010. He said he sold the assets of the business to a competitor before the bankruptcy filing, and the competitor took on a large chunk of the $600,672 in liabilities listed in the filing. Zisman would not say who had bought Luxury Kitchen Hoods’ assets, citing a “non-disclosure agreement.”
The Herald also found that when mayoral candidate Fiore was chairman of the West Kendall Community Council, he made at least $180,000 flipping properties he had purchased from a developer who routinely appeared before the council for zoning changes.
Fiore is now a Palmetto Bay Village Council member.
“The ethics commission looked at it and found no probable cause to move forward,” Fiore said last week when asked to comment.
That is in line with what Fiore told the Herald in August 2006. But at the time, the Herald found that while Fiore had asked the ethics commission for an opinion on the matter, he had not told it that the vote would take place while he was currently under contract with the developer.
The ethics commission has repeatedly ruled that officials can vote on matters that affect parties that they have done business with so long as that business is not ongoing during the vote.
Robert Meyers, then the director of the Miami-Dade County Commission on Ethics and Public Trust, also told the Herald in 2006 that it was unknown how the commission might have ruled.
Fiore declined to answer whether he would vote again on a developer’s proposal in a similar situation.
The Herald found a lawsuit against Camillus House, a nonprofit agency serving the homeless, where mayoral candidate Peter England was director of government relations until 2009. England was not a defendant in the suit, but was mentioned in it.
In March 2005, Tyrone G. Hart, a former director of development of Camillus House, accused the nonprofit of wrongful termination and alleged that England routinely pressured employees to donate to political candidates and then reimbursed them through the agency.
Hart accused England of directing him to donate to a candidate, and said he received a check from Camillus House in the same amount about two weeks later. He said he refused to take the money.
Camillus House and Hart settled the case out of court for an undisclosed amount.
Asked about the matter during an elections interview earlier this year, England called Hart a “disgruntled former employee” and said, “There was nothing to it, there was never anything to it. I don’t know how the suit was settled.”
James Archie Shedd
Council candidate James Archie Shedd has run for political office once before, in 2008, when he lost in Miami-Dade’s first election for property appraiser. In 2010, the Florida Elections Commission found that he violated election laws when he went into overdraft to pay for campaign expenses and failed to report his qualifying fee as a campaign expenditure.
He said in May during an elections interview that he took full responsibility in front of the commission.
“They said, basically, ‘Don’t do this again,’ and that was it. No fine, no penalty. They decided that because I had spent so much money on a losing campaign, that was enough punishment. Which it really was,” Shedd said.