Imprisoned developer True sues over real estate settlement
Before he went to prison in January for torturing a business rival, Mount Pleasant developer Thomas True used his last moments of freedom to rail in court against the various former business associates he felt had stiffed him.
If a lawsuit filed this month is any indication, time behind bars has not mellowed the 70-year-old convict or curbed his appetite for revenge.
From behind the walls of Jesup federal prison in southeast Georgia, True has lobbed a legal grenade at three members of an Upstate family with whom he’d had land dealings that later soured.
Acting as his own attorney, True is suing Martin, Nancy and Josh Seppala of Greer for $4.7 million he contends is owed to him. According to court papers, he’s getting help in this quest from a convicted bank robber at the prison who is moonlighting as a legal assistant.
Neither True’s criminal attorney, Bill Thrower, nor his civil lawyer, David Collins, were aware of the latest lawsuit until contacted by The Post and Courier.
Collins said he could not discuss specifics of the case because some legal matters in the battle between True and the Seppalas are still pending in state court. He said the case involves a “very complex, convoluted” business dispute in which both sides have taken legal action against the other.
“At some point, I guess it will be up to a judge or a jury to decide whether he is owed any money or not,” he said.
No one answered the phone last week at Martin Henry Investments in Greer, where Martin Seppala is listed as a principle, or at a Florida family home listed in the lawsuit. The Seppalas’ attorney of record, James Fayssoux, did not return a call placed to his Greenville office Friday.
The suit stems from a June 2008 settlement agreement in which the Seppalas allegedly agreed to pay True about $3.2 million plus interest in connection with real estate dealings, including $2 million for True’s stake in a proposed Ladson subdivision marketed as Spencer Creek Woods, according to court documents. True alleges that the Seppalas failed to make good on the deal.
In March 2010, Eastern Harbor Realty Trust, led by True, filed for bankruptcy organization to save the Ladson project from foreclosure after piling up more than $5.6 million in debts. Eastern Harbor had taken ownership of the 105-acre property from an Upstate group that included Martin Seppala.
True had also been involved with Seppala and businessman Steven Sarkela of Greer in lining up the Pelican Pointe condominium development near Folly Beach. At some point, True became convinced he’d been shortchanged on the deal, and he hired a lawyer to place liens on the condos.
On the night of June 3, 2010, Sarkela went to True’s home in Snee Farm with hopes of clearing up the dispute. But the discussion turned heated and Sarkela later testified he was jumped by True and his karate master friend, Gunther Blancke, who took on the persona of a Russian gangster named “Ivan.”
Sarkela said he was duct-taped to a chair, threatened with a knife and scissors, and held against his will until he signed papers allowing True to receive $200,000 from a condo sale.
Over the next five days, Sarkela recorded several threatening phone conversations with True, who reportedly said he would use “Ivan” again if he didn’t get paid. The recordings were done in cooperation with the FBI.
True pleaded guilty in July 2012 to one of six counts he faced for extortion in the incident. Blancke went to trial shortly after True’s plea and was found guilty on two of six counts of extortion. True got a nine-year prison sentence; Blancke, two years behind bars.
Barking away in a thick Boston accent, True expressed little remorse during his January sentencing hearing, arguing that he was the one who had been wronged.
In addition to the money he says he is owed, True in his lawsuit seeks about $47,000 in damages to pay for “litigation assistance” from Jeremy Marquise Carter, listed in the suit as a “certified legal assistant.”
Prison and court records show Carter is a 34-year-old convicted bank robber who is serving a 21-year sentence for robbing a bank in Belle Glade, Fla., in March 2002. He had previously been convicted of robbing five banks in Broward County. Fla., in the mid-1990s, court records indicate.
Carter did not respond to an email sent last week to a gmail account listed on his court filing for True.
Even if True prevails in the federal lawsuit, which was filed in Charleston, it would be some time before he gets a chance to spend his millions. His projected release date is November 2020.
Reach Glenn Smith at 937-5556