Terry McManus’s company, Flagler Golf Management, has run Flagler Beach’s city-owned nine-hole golf course at the south end of town since 2016. The relationship between McManus and the city has been rough and uneven, though the course currently is sound, he says. The relationship between McManus and the law has been even rougher: in October he was sentenced to four years in prison on a drunk driving conviction following a jury trial, his third conviction within ten years.
This morning, he appeared before Circuit Judge Chris France–who has sentenced him in October–ready for trial on two other charges: a third-degree felony insurance fraud charge, and falsifying a police report, a misdemeanor. This time, he got a break–or what he sees as a victory: the state dropped the felony charge in exchange for his plea to falsifying a police report, his sentence being one day in jail, with credit for time served.
In essence, he avoided a trial, another felony conviction and, potentially, added time to his prison sentence. In a phone interview from the county jail this morning, McManus said that the prosecution had threatened him with the possibility of a 10-year sentence had he lost at trial. That would have been unlikely. The fraud charge carried a maximum penalty of five years in prison, but the judge could have opted to impose a sentence consecutive to his current sentence, rather than a concurrent one.
The fraud allegation centered on a Caterpillar skid steer he reported stolen from the Flagler Beach Ocean Palms Golf Course in September 2019. Flagler Beach Police detective Rosanna Vinci investigated, and based on the vin number she had, tracked down the skid steer to a buyer in Canada. The piece of equipment had been bought from a dealer in Canada and had never been in Florida from the time it was manufactured to the time it was purchased.
McManus contended that there’d been an error in vin numbers–that the skid steer was stolen, but that the vin number the detective investigated was the wrong one. “The insurance company sends me the document with the insurance number on it, that’s the number that came off of their document that they gave me,” he said in the interview this morning, “so if the number is wrong in any way, shape or form, somewhere passing through the people that worked for me, or somebody that was at the insurance office, somebody made an honest mistake. It wasn’t me.” He said a 17-digit vin number can easily be listed with mistakes.
In a deposition of the detective, McManus’s attorney, Assistant Public Defender Bill Bookhammer, questioned Vinci on that possibility–that the numbers were mis-transcribed, and seemed to suggest in his first few questions that the city police department may have been targeting McManus because of his troubled relationship with the city. Vinci parried both approaches. She said she had not been aware of McManus’s relationship with the city. The May deposition sheds light on how Bookhammer would have crafted his defense, if not on why the state opted to drop the case.
“So as far as how that serial number got on the policy from Nationwide, do you know whether or not it was provided by Mr. McManus himself or not?” Bookhammer asked.
“No. I cannot say that I do,” Vinci replied.
“He had a serial number that he wrote down that he said he read off of an insurance policy. So my question is, is it possible that this serial number that you have been tracking down was not the serial number of the skid steer in which he had, assuming he had one?” the attorney asked.
“No. So, basically, there is only one serial number,” the detective answered, referring to the part of the vin number that goes to the actual piece of machinery, as opposed to the part that refers to the year of make and manufacturer.
“It could be we are investigating two different skid steers? The insurance company simply took the number down wrong when they issued the policy?” Bookhammer asked.
“Mr. McManus would have to provide something to them, though, for them to get that serial number,” Vinci said.
“Were you informed that there have been witnesses that were deposed that verified the existence of a skid steer on the property that was involved during the time in question?” Bookhammer asked.
That answer alone raises a question that would have had to be raised at trial: if both sides agree that there had been a skid steer on the property, then how had it vanished? (Vinci checked with local dealers to verify whether any such piece of equipment had been bought or rented to McManus’s operation, and found none had.)
“The reason I am aware of that,” Vinci went on, “is because of after Mr. McManus turned himself in on the warrant, several of his employees came to the police department mostly to talk about his unethical business practice of not paying them and to include a possible business partner who — or part owner — who provided me contracts where Mr. McManus was selling him part of the golf course business, and he had paid him money, mostly complaining about that stuff. I did ask about the skid steer. They said they had seen a piece of machinery. They couldn’t describe it to me. They didn’t know what color it was.”
“Who are these people?” Bookhammer asked.
“One is Richard [LaZoda]. I do not have the female’s name right now. It was somebody who worked there.” Lazoda was McManus’s general manager and chef previously. He sued McManus in November, alleging breach of contract. Lazoda claimed McManus had agreed to sell him the business, but fired him. Lazoda had begun making payments as part of the option agreement. McManus countered that it was Lazoda who breached the contract by not making timely payments. The case, still pending, is headed for mediation. Curiously, that dispute also involved a John Deer piece of equipment.
“Now, whether or not you can answer this in a trial or not, do you believe the skid steer had ever been on the property?” Bookhammer had asked Vinvi in the deposition.
“This particular skid steer with that serial number, no,” Vinci said.
“Any skid steer?”
“I can’t say whether or not the skid steer was on the property or not. No.”
This morning, McManus, buoyed by the plea that wasn’t two hours old, said he would have prevailed at trial. “There’s no way they’re just dropping a felony that’s high profile against me, that they’ve had for two years against me,” he said. “They’re not dropping it the day of trial unless it’s 100 percent they know they’re going to lose the day of trial.”
But the prosecution had ammunition of its own. Assistant State Prosecutor Tara Libby in her part of the deposition with Vinci had asked her: “Did Mr. McManus ever provide any proof of ownership of this skid steer?”
“No, he did not. I asked him multiple times. I have from the beginning of the case, from September to March, I contact him several times,” Vinci said.
“Did he ever mention where he got the skid steer from?”
“He was evasive about it. He said, ‘From a friend.’ I said, ‘Well, that is fine. Can I have that friend’s name. Perhaps they can show me proof to see the transfer of the skid steer or the sale or something?’ He said, ‘I will get it to you. I will get is it to you.’ He never did.”
In McManus’s absence, Ocean Palms Golf Club has been in the hands of McManus’s wife. “we’re in a good level of peace on the golf course, my wife is managing it,” he said. The drunk-driving conviction is on appeal at the Fifth District Court of Appeal.