Allies No More

illustration by Doug Potter

The lawsuit pitting Jim Bob Moffett against Gary Bradley is getting nastier. In February, Moffett sued Bradley. Now Bradley is returning the favor. In a pleading filed in Travis County District Court on June 18, Bradley's lawyer, Eric Taube of the Austin law firm of Hohmann & Taube, asks that the court find Moffett's local real estate company, Circle C Land Corp., guilty of fraud and negligent misrepresentation.

The fraud allegations, which are part of Bradley's counterclaim against Moffett's company, are the latest salvo in a lawsuit known as Circle C Land Corp. v. Phoenix Holdings, Ltd. The plaintiff, Circle C Land Corp. (CCLC), is a subsidiary of New Orleans-based FM Properties (FMP). The managing partner of FMP is the mining and fertilizer conglomerate Freeport-McMoRan, which is headed by Moffett. The defendant, Phoenix, is headed by Bradley.

At issue between the two former allies is $3.8 million in municipal utility district bond payments from the Circle C Ranch development in southwestern Travis County. The development is serviced by several MUDs which collect water and wastewater fees from local residents.

According to court documents, the dispute arises from a March, 1995 meeting between Bradley and Moffett, at which the two agreed that Bradley would buy the residential portion of Circle C Ranch from CCLC for $18 million. Bradley also planned to buy the commercial real estate for an additional $33.5 million. At that meeting, Bradley claims in the lawsuit, Moffett agreed to a provision that gave Phoenix "all municipal utility district bond proceeds." The two sides then drew up a sales agreement that detailed what was to be included in the deal. Later, when Bradley found that the MUD bond payments issue was not spelled out in the sales agreement, he contacted CCLC to tell them of the error. But, according to Bradley's pleading, Moffett's company told Bradley that it "would only honor the language in the Purchase and Sale Agreement and that if Phoenix did not close, it would forfeit approximately $8.5 million in earnest money which had been deposited on the condition that Phoenix close the sale timely."

The pleading also says that CCLC "prior to and at closing, eventually acknowledged, represented and agreed that the ambiguous language in the Purchase and Sale Agreement regarding the MUD Reimbursements would be interpreted by CCLC as transferring all MUD Reimbursements related to the Circle C Ranch residential property to Phoenix."

Bradley's lawyer Taube told the Chronicle that the problem was created because there was "a lack of specificity as to the material nature of the agreement." Taube has asked the court to rule that Bradley is the "legal and equitable owner" of the MUD bond proceeds. Short of that, he wants the court to rule that the sales agreement is "ambiguous" with regard to the proceeds.

Taube said the case will go to trial some time at the end of this year or early next year. Meanwhile, both sides will be busy with depositions. Phoenix wants to depose Moffett's right hand man and former Freeport general counsel, John Amato, plus FM Properties chief Beau Armstrong and David Ruhlman, a development consultant who has done extensive work for FM Properties. CCLC wants to depose Bradley's long time attorney, Terry Bray.

There are several interesting things about the lawsuit. First, despite publishing an in-depth profile of Bradley and his business dealings that was spread over three days last month, the local daily did not mention a word of the lawsuit pitting Moffett against Bradley, even though it did discuss Moffett's 1992 rescue of Bradley which allowed Bradley to retain control of the Circle C development. Given that the daily reportedly spent 14 months investigating Bradley, taking nearly eight full pages of the paper to detail Bradley's serpentine business deals, the omission of the lawsuit is curious. After all, according to the lawsuit brought by Bradley (who continues to have serious financial problems, not least of which is a $53 million federal court judgment against him) he got squeezed by his old pal. Bradley's lawsuit claims that as soon as Bradley saw the sales agreement didn't guarantee him the MUD bond proceeds, he tried to get Moffett to agree to fix the deal. Moffett apparently told Bradley tough luck. And rather than lose his $8.5 million investment, Bradley's position is that he bit the bullet and bought the property.

Five years ago, Moffett became Bradley's savior when he guaranteed $42 million in loans for Bradley, allowing the flamboyant developer to stay solvent. Now, the two are adversaries in an expensive court battle that may last a year or more. Can anyone say irony?

Consensus on the Aquifer

Development and lack of regulation are threatening the Edwards Aquifer. That has been said many times before, but now, three dozen scientists have signed a document detailing the threats to the vast aquifer and the steps that must be taken to protect it. An open letter called "Protecting the Edwards Aquifer: a Scientific Consensus" says that steps must be taken to "restrict impervious cover in the recharge and contributing zones." In addition, the scientists say that measures must be taken to reduce water withdrawals from the aquifer, promote public education about the aquifer, actively direct development away from the recharge and contributing zones, and institute measures to reduce the risk of contamination from spills.

The consensus letter is important because of the number of scientists who have signed it. Signees include the most prominent biologists, hydrologists and limnologists in the region, including Glenn Longley, director of the Edwards Aquifer Research and Data Center at Southwest Texas State University, Raymond Slade, author of the most definitive studies ever done on the Barton Springs segment of the aquifer, Lauren Ross of Glenrose Engineering, and David Hillis, the UT zoologist who has done more work on the Barton Springs Salamander than anyone else.

To see a copy of the consensus letter and a list of the signees, go to http://www.glenrose.com.


Car Costs

The Internal Revenue Service allows taxpayers to deduct 31 cents for each mile they drive on business. The American Automobile Association, however, figures the actual cost of owning and operating a car is 47 cents per mile. According to the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission, the second largest expense in the average household is transportation, which accounts for almost 19% of total household income.


Oppel on First

In his column last Sunday, Rich Oppel, editor of the local daily, asked me to stand up for Sammy Allred and Bob Cole's First Amendment rights. Okay. Done. KVET'S Sammy and Bob should be allowed to continue their on-air inanities for as long as Sammy is able to say "Geezinslaw" without wearing a bib. And I strongly support their First Amendment right to make fools of themselves each and every weekday morning. But please -- please -- don't make me listen to their show.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

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