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Eagle investor Jim Irvin
Eagle investor Jim Irvin: Eagle investor Jim Irvin talks about his experience with Pineland 101 Land Trust.
Real Estate Broker Greg Eagle admits on the stand in court on Thursday, Sept. 27 about falsely asserting that he was the sole owner of a large piece of property along Pine Island Road in Cape Coral and then applying for refinancing on the property with a bank. The property was actually owned by 52 investors of the Pine Island 101 Land Trust. / Todd Stubing/news-press.com
An old Eagle Realty sign still stands in front of a parcel near Pine Island Road and Saddle Lane where Greg Eagle brokered a deal in 2005 in which Wal-Mart bought 30 acres where it plans to put a store. / Dick Hogan / The News-Press

Greg Eagle

» Profession: Cape Coral-based commercial real estate broker since 1981, opened Eagle Realty of Southwest Florida in 1984

» Age: 61

» Hometown: Sault Ste. Marie, Mich. (moved to Cape Coral in 1979)

» Notable projects: VA Hospital in Cape Coral, Super Target at San Carlos Boulevard and Kelly Road in south Fort Myers, Outback restaurant on Pine Island Road in Cape Coral, Carrabba’s restaurant on Pine Island Road in Cape Coral, Grace Community Center on Hancock Bridge Parkway in Cape Coral

» Community work: Eagle and his brother Tim donated $850,000 for construction of Eagle Skate Park in Cape Coral.

Those involved

» Greg Eagle: Cape Coral real estate broker rose to prominence during the boom but fell when the market tanked and he tried to recoup his losses with a risky project in Charlotte County. He claims he was defrauded by a ring of confidence men who had the assistance of a Wells Fargo Bank vice president.

» Pine Island Land 101 Land Trust: Eagle formed this investment group to buy 101 acres on Pine Island Road in Cape Coral as the future site of a regional mall. But when Eagle ran into money problems on another deal, he faked documents to mortgage the trust’s property for $17 million to stay in the game.

» Michael Reis: Reis was a Wells Fargo Bank vice president for underwriting who steered Eagle to a lending group that supposedly had access to $5 billion in funds available for lending to finance a massive Homeland Security training site Eagle was trying to develop, first in Charlotte County and then in Highlands County.

» EVMC Real Estate Consultants Inc.: The Los Angeles-based group working with Reis, supposedly was going to lend Eagle $425 million but instead took millions in fees before ultimately failing to finance his project.

Timeline: How Eagle’s land deals fell apart

Beginning in 1990, commercial real estate broker Greg Eagle puts together Pine Island 101 Land Trust, which then buys 101 acres of property on Pine Island Road which Eagle was marketing as the site for a new mall. The trust has 52 owners including Eagle, who is trustee.

2002: Feb. 20, Eagle, acting without the consent of the other owners, mortgages the property for $2 million with Immokalee-based Florida Community Bank. To accomplish this he gives a false affidavit and an altered land trust agreement to the bank.

2005: Eagle becomes involved in a 5,200-acre parcel of land in eastern Charlotte County being proposed by Fort Myers-based businessman O.J. Buigas as a site for a campus of Florida Gulf Coast University. That never comes to fruition.

2006: Buigas markets the same property as a training facility for Homeland Security personnel. Eagle continues his involvement but that deal also never happens and Eagle, increasingly desperate to avoid losing the deposits, uses a false affidavit and altered land trust agreement to mortgage the Pine Island 101 property for $17,030,000 with First National Bank of Pennsylvania.

2006-2007: Eagle makes $8.5 million in payments to EVMC, a Los Angeles-based company that he thought could get him financing to buy the Homeland Security property for $425 million. He also pays $29 million in deposits with Buigas and payments to vendors and consultants. In total, he spends $37.5 million but no financing ever materializes and Eagle loses all the money.

2009: Oct. 5, First National sues for foreclosure on the $17,030,000 loan and Eagle starts sending a series of letters to the Pine Island 101 owners explaining what he’s done.

2011: On Sept. 4, Eagle joins a federal lawsuit filed in New York by another group that claims EVMC worked with a Wells Fargo Bank vice president to swindle them. In subsequent letters to Pine Island 101 owners, Eagle assures them the lawsuit will bring triple damages and make them whole.

PRESENT: The New York lawsuit continues in court, as does the First National foreclosure suit in Lee County circuit court. Eagle continues to practice real estate in Cape Coral and to work on another national security training center he wants to build on 12 square miles in Highlands County.

More

As Southwest Florida’s land speculation frenzy started to fade in 2006, Cape Coral-based real estate broker Greg Eagle was in trouble — he needed $19 million to stay in what he believed was a can’t-lose deal.

Eagle solved the problem by misleading a bank into believing he was sole owner of a valuable piece of property on Pine Island Road.

As trustee of Pine Island 101 Land Trust, which owns the property, he received a $17 million loan by providing the bank with an affidavit swearing he had authority as trustee to mortgage the land. He then poured the $17 million into an attempt to save his stake in a project to develop a Homeland Security training center and his crumbling real estate empire.

The move failed. Now the bank wants to take the land back and the investors could lose everything.

Eagle said he’s as much a victim as the people who trusted him enough to join his project, saying “I was shammed and scammed” by a phony financing scheme launched by EVMC, a Los Angeles-based finance group in league with a Wells Fargo Bank vice president.

He’s suing the bank and others in hope of getting back the investors’ $17 million and perhaps even the $38.5 million the whole episode cost him.

Some of his investors, however, say it’s Eagle who should shoulder the blame.

Marian Hall, 83, of Cape Coral, said she scrimped, saved and borrowed to write a check for $9,500 each year for 10 years — by 2000 the property was mortgage free.

“I had hoped, and the other investors had hoped, that we could retire” when the land was sold, she said.

But now Hall still has to work for a living: as much as 13 hours a day as a home health care worker. She’s still paying off money she borrowed so she could invest in the trust.

“What a fake,” she said bitterly.

Eagle says he’s not faking, and that he has nothing to give. He lost $200 million in the real estate crash. Some of that was property, but $50 million was cash

“I’m so broke I can’t pay attention because so much is coming at me,” he said.

But Lee Circuit Judge Joseph Fuller gave the go-ahead Sept. 27 for two attorneys representing the investors to proceed with a class action lawsuit against Eagle and the bank.

“To me, it’s disingenuous to say, ‘I did these misdeeds and I got ripped off and so you should lay off,’ said Michael Whitt, one of the attorneys. “That’s really his only prayer to let him get free.”

He said an FBI investigation of Eagle ended a year ago but no charges were brought.

“We’ve been disappointed the U.S. attorney has not been taking action to date,” Whitt said. “Here you have active, intentional, willful fraud to take our clients’ property. The bank’s out the money and now our people too.”

How it began

On June 12, 1990, Eagle set up an unrecorded land trust in which investors banded together to put a down payment on the 101 acres on the north side of Pine Island Road, across from Saddlewood Lane, about a quarter mile west of SW 20th Avenue. Unlike a corporation that owns land, an unrecorded trust doesn’t have to publicly reveal its name, and ownership of the property showed up on the property rolls only as “Gregory W. Eagle, trustee.”

At first, the 52 investors were elated at their prospects as the Cape’s population zoomed and land prices rose steadily in the booming economy.

They paid off their $2.5 million mortgage in 2000 so they owned the property free and clear. Eagle was saying he was close to selling the property as site for a regional mall.

Unbeknownst to investors, by 2002, Eagle was borrowing on the property to finance other deals — taking out a $2 million loan from Immokalee-based Florida Community Bank.

“The beneficiaries have all consented to the granting of the mortgage and have authorized me to execute the mortgage,” Eagle said in an affidavit supporting the mortgage.

He also filed an altered land trust agreement referring to himself as “the beneficiary” where the original referred to a list of investors included in the agreement.

On June 30, 2006, with the housing market staggering, Eagle paid off that mortgage but took out one for $17 million with First National Bank of Pennsylvania.

This time Eagle specifically claimed to be the only beneficiary of the trust and provided the bank with a copy of the land trust agreement altered to remove all the other beneficiaries. Eagle’s actual 3.5 percent interest in the property became “100 percent” on the altered copy.

He acknowledged it was wrong to do that but said he was confident there was no chance other investors would be burned: The value of the property plus the value of 50 adjacent acres Eagle owned outright would make everyone whole under worst of circumstances.

Besides, Eagle said, he needed the money. In 2005, he’d gone in with Fort Myers-based businessman O.J. Buigas on 5,200 acres in Charlotte County they hoped would be the north campus of FGCU.

To get in on the deal, Eagle had to make deposits of $19 million to 5200 Ranch LLC, controlled by Buigas, and another $8 million to the owner of an adjacent property.

But as the economy deteriorated throughout 2006, FGCU was backing down from its expansion plans and Eagle had to continue making deposits or lose it all. By December, he had “over $27 million in deposits at stake,” according to the lawsuit filed against Wells Fargo.

Ultimately Eagle lost the non-refundable deposits that had guaranteed him the right to participate in the development of the property but not before changing gears to an alternate plan: a national security training facility that would generate $100 million a year in profits.

That failed to come to fruition, as did a subsequent plan to build the training facility on a Highlands County tract.

By 2008, Eagle was faced with the need to renew the $17 million First Bank of Pennsylvania loan. Again, he renewed the loan using a false affidavit and an altered land trust agreement excising the other owners.

This time the ruse didn’t go unnoticed. Michael Kozak, senior vice president of First National Bank in Fort Myers, noticed the original land trust was different from the one Eagle had altered.

Kozak sent Eagle’s then-attorney Gregg Truxton an email Aug. 26, 2008, noting the discrepancy and asking “should we not have a document that acknowledges the land trust was modified and Greg Eagle PA is the sole beneficiary?”

On Oct. 5, 2009, the bank filed a foreclosure lawsuit against Eagle, Pine Island 101, and Regional Mall 21.9 Acre Land Trust, owned by Eagle and his then-wife, Cathy, for a parcel adjacent to Pine Island 101.

Aftermath

By end of 2008, the Highlands version of the national security deal had not materialized. Eagle had, according to his lawsuit, lost $38 million on the deal including lost deposits and fees he paid to get the project financed.

Despite the FBI investigation and a complaint against Eagle’s license with the state Department of Business and Professional Regulation, no government agency has filed a regulatory, civil or criminal action against him.

Since 1990, 72 civil lawsuits have been filed against Eagle in Lee County and one in federal court. Of those, 29 are open, court records show.

Eagle said he and his attorney have had conversations with the FBI and U.S. attorney in New York — but in the role of a victim of the people who allegedly scammed him.

The lawsuit filed by Eagle in New York is going with no resolution in sight.

“Anyone who’s been hurt, they’ll be awarded damages,” he said. “Before I get a dime, everyone will be taken care of.”

Some of the Pine Island 101 trust owners see Eagle as a good man who was a victim of circumstance.

Bob Avery, a 1 percent trust owner who now lives in Indiana, said Eagle has “always been a very good, honest man, very involved in our community in Cape Coral.”

Mainly, he said, things went wrong because “The economy took down the value of that property. But he’s working real hard to make it right for everybody.”

Now, Avery said, he believes the best chance of getting back his money is Eagle’s New York lawsuit. “My feeling is stick with it.”

Others are bitter about the experience and say it’s taken a toll on them.

Dr. Charles Curtis, 57, a Cape Coral physician who with his wife, Linda, owns 1 percent of Pine Island 101, said the experience has changed the way he looks at the world. “Going into a situation like this and trusting somebody … It just makes you lose trust in people.”

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