Joe Mullins, the Flagler County Commissioner and business owner, faces a $2.5 million federal lawsuit over allegations he defrauded a golf vacation-package company by delivering either invalid tickets to the 2018 Augusta National Masters tournament or failing to deliver tickets in 2018 and 2019, costing the company hundreds of thousands of dollars and lost customers and ruining the company.
The company, Arizona-based Golf Travel, claims its reputation was “destroyed” and forced to close after it contracted for tickets and badges to the Masters golf tournament on Augusta with Mullins Sports and Entertainment, LLC, only to be defrauded. The counts allege fraud, racketeering and breach of contract.
The lawsuit was filed on April 9 in the Augusta division of Georgia’s Southern District by attorney John Sparks. It also cites 10 unnamed individuals and 20 unnamed “corporate entities” associated with Mullins and who participated in the “tortuous” conduct, receiving money wrongfully taken from Golf Travel. But the lawsuit claims the additional corporate defendants are not independent of Mullins per se: He is “the owner and operator of Defendant Mullins Sports and the other corporate Defendants,” and allegedly uses them “as an alter ego, agent, and instrumentality by keeping said corporations under Defendant Mullins’ domination and control and by perpetuating its existence only to serve his personal purposes.” The lawsuit claims the court should see no distinction between Mullins and the corporate entities but rather should hold him “personally liable for all amounts due.” (May 10 Update: Mullins was served on the fifth try at his home at the Aliki in Flagler Beach on April 30, and the Notice of Service entered into the record on May 10.)
Golf Travel was spun off from a 40-year-old company called SGH Inc. that sold golf tours and tournament packages, including tickets and tournament admission badges to professional golf tournaments and related amenities, among them the Masters tournament in Augusta, Ga. Golf Travel was offering a vacation package that included tickets and/or four-day badges to the tournament.
Around late April 2017, Mullins, according to the lawsuit, told Golf Travel that he “had access to and could legally sell tickets to the practice rounds of the 2018
Masters as well as daily tickets and four-day Badges to the 2018 Masters tournament.” Golf Travel paid $606,150 for 183 practice round and 95 four-day badges for the 2018 Masters. The 95 tickets cost $448,250.00.
Many of those 95 tickets turned out to be invalid, according to the lawsuit.
Four badge-holders were stopped at the gate by tournament officials and security and told their badges had been “flagged” as invalid. “After the customers were removed to a security area and interrogated by Masters’ security, the Badges were confiscated,” the lawsuit states. The individuals were escorted off. Nineteen more such badge holders showed up, were stopped, interrogated and escorted off. The customers were angry. Nineteen of them had bought their badges from Mullins. Four had them from someone else, and were accompanying people with Mullins badges. (In all, 22 such non-Mullins badge holders were turned away during the tournament. Golf Travel believes it was because the clients were in the company of people holding Mullins badges.)
In response to Golf Travel, Mullins “offered no explanation for the invalid Badges except to represent that security was more intense that year and the [Golf Travel’s] customers must have gotten unlucky with random secondary inspections,” the lawsuit states. He would continue to insist that the badges were not invalid, just that the clients were unlucky. At the time, Golf Travel states, the company had no way to determine the veracity of Mullins’s statement. It later learned “that the statements made by Defendant Mullins were false, Defendant Mullins knew that they were false when made, and that Defendant Mullins intended to deceive Plaintiff by these false statements.”
Golf Travel then worried about other badges it had bought from Mullins that could potentially end up being flagged, humiliating their holders. Mullins gave the company assurances that other badges were not “tainted.” But on the second day of the tournament, 20 more clients were stopped, interrogated and escorted off, and by the end of the weekend, 57 badges had been confiscated, 35 of them provided by Mullins.
Golf Travel paid $200,000 to buy new tickets and badges and another $103,000 to refund customers who’d been turned away, and lost a large, different supplier of tickets and badges it had done business with over many years “because of the fiasco,” the lawsuit states. Golf Travel also lost three long-time corporate accounts and all revenue they generated.
“After [Golf Travel] purchased tickets and Badges from the Defendants for the 2019 Masters but prior to the start of the 2019 Masters Tournament, [Golf Travel] learned what had occurred with respect to the confiscated Badges for the 2018 Masters tournament that [Golf Travel] had purchased from Defendants,” the lawsuit states. “[Golf Travel] also learned that Defendant Mullins was well-aware of what had occurred with respect to the 2018 tickets and Badges before or during the 2018 Masters. Defendant Mullins failed to disclose to the Plaintiff the truth with respect to the void Badges and continued to maintain his false representations that Plaintiff’s customers were just unlucky.”
The lawsuit refers to a “former, disgruntled employee” of Mullins’s who had sent Augusta National a list of tickets and badge numbers that Mullins Sports had sold to Golf Travel, prompting Augusta National to void them. Mullins, Golf Travel claims, knew that Augusta National would void the tickets but didn’t disclose that, damaging Golf Travel’s reputation. The reason for Augusta National’s decision is not disclosed, or known by Golf Travel.
The same thing happened with tickets and badges Golf Travel had already bought for the 2019 tournament–145 practice round tickets and 84 four-day badges, for a total of $840,900 paid Mullins Sports. That March, a Golf Travel official went to Augusta to meet with Mullins and collect the purchased tickets and badges. Mullins “refused” to meet with him or give him the badges, the lawsuit claims. Mullins said he’d been “called away to Florida.”
“Mullins’ representation that ‘he had been called away to Florida’ was false, Defendant Mullins knew that it was false when said,” the lawsuit alleges. The statement was made, it continues, to keep Golf Travel from suing.
Four days before the 2019 practice rounds were to begin, Mullins asked for a meeting with Golf Travel’s president. They met. Mullins told him he’d not be able to provide all the badges and tickets pledged, according to the lawsuit. Mullins assured the president that he’d refund the money and help the company find replacement tickets–two promises Golf Travel says Mullins had no intention of fulfilling. And in fact he did not deliver the tickets or provide refunds, the lawsuit states. Rather, he provided 39 practice-round tickets and 92 one-day tickets. Mullins eventually refunded $295,000 over four checks or wire transfers, though by then Golf Travel had had to buy substitute tickets “at a much higher price or to cancel … customers’ packages.”
Golf Travel’s notifications to customers “who had already purchased golf vacation packages and already made plans to travel to Augusta were not well received by the customers. Many of them had already booked flights, some international flights, arranged other transportation to Augusta, and booked hotels and other accommodations, all of which had to be cancelled at the last minute.” Golf Travel refunded customers $700,000.
By the time the lawsuit was filed, actual money still owed Golf Travel was $114,094. But the company argues in its filing that it suffered damages over $800,000 from “wrongful conduct” between the two tournaments, including lost profits, and pegged its future losses at “no less than $1.5 million,” and is seeking punitive damages of more than $250,000. Defendants’ conduct, it states, “was willful and showed malice.”
Mullins was elected to the Flagler County Commission in 2018 and is running for re-election in 2022, maintains a homesteaded home in Bunnell, another (non-homesteaded) in Flagler Beach, and another in Augusta. In a meeting at the county commission this evening he was touting the importance of standing by the U.S. Constitution. He has long stopped responding to interview requests from FlaglerLive. Regarding the lawsuit, he told the Augusta Press, which first reported the filing, that he had not yet been served. He said he would be ready “if it is anything, but we’ve honored, you know, when we were doing business a few years ago. We don’t do it anymore, but when we did, we honored all agreements.”