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    Landlord's interest shifts to air charters

    The owner of Amberwood Apartments, which closed last year because of multiple code violations, has three new jets worth $5-million.

    By JEFF TESTERMAN, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published February 3, 2003


    Clarification
    In a series of articles published in the St. Petersburg Times, certain apartment complexes, including Amberwood Apartments, were identified as being owned by Steven S. Green, personally. However, these properties are or were owned solely by corporations in which Mr. Green is a shareholder, and were not owned by Mr. Green, personally.
    TAMPA -- Even as the unpaid fines, mortgage payments and contractors bills on his company's Amberwood Apartments soared toward $1-million last year, Steven Green was pouring his money into a new venture: a "boutique" charter airline with three passenger jets worth nearly $5-million.

    Called Green Air, the charter company operates out of Westchester, N.Y. It caters to celebrities and other well-heeled patrons who want the luxury of rich leather seats and burled-wood cabins in private jets that can whisk eight passengers at a time to destinations at speeds of 443 mph.

    For flights aboard Green Air's two Cessnas or Hawker jets, the hourly charter price runs from $1,699 to $2,499.

    Rainer Reichelt, an airline broker with U.S. Aircraft Sales in McLean, Va., puts the value of the Cessna Citations II's at about $2-million apiece. He said the Hawker jet is "a gas guzzler and probably too noisy for some airports," but has a value of about $1-million. The Hawker was acquired by Green Air in late September.

    "Oh my. That's incredible," said Donna Campbell, when told about the charter air company. "You'd think (Green) would pay off the people before doing that."

    Campbell is the bookkeeper at Dririte of Hillsborough, a contractor that did work at the now-shuttered Amberwood Apartments in northern Hillsborough but has never been paid. Still outstanding is a Dririte lien for $1,165 filed in June.

    That was the same month Green Air received FAA approval to operate its charter business, according to agency spokesperson Arlene Salac.

    Green hosted a party to celebrate the launch of Green Air on Sept. 26. It was held in a 19th-floor Essex House Hotel penthouse suite overlooking New York's Central Park.

    In attendance, according to an interview Green gave the New York Times, were jazz vocalist Bobby Short, super model Irina Pantaeva and Lorraine Bracco and Steven R. Schirripa, cast members from HBO's hit mob series, The Sopranos.

    "How can someone do these things and run off and not pay their existing bills?" asked contractor Frank Reichart. "I don't think it's right."

    Reichart is the owner of PTR Tub and Tile Restoration, a Brandon company that did work at the Amberwood Apartments but is still trying to collect $2,805 from Green or his real estate holding companies. Reichart filed his contractor's lien eleven months ago, but figures hiring an attorney to pursue the matter would be throwing good money after bad.

    "It's unfortunate he can get away with these kinds of things," Reichart said.

    In late April last year, the county padlocked the 212-unit Amberwood Apartments after finding some 500 code violations and deciding the units were unsafe for habitation. Violations at the complex, near 124th Avenue and west of Interstate 275, included exposed wires, water-damaged ceilings and disconnected fire alarms.

    The closing of the complex displaced about 150 renters. When Amberwood Realty, the holding company that owns the property, failed to make repairs, the county imposed fines of $5,000 a day.

    The Amberwood code enforcement case ballooned into the largest in Hillsborough history. Unpaid fines against Amberwood now total $997,250. Additional fines at apartments owned by other Green companies now stand at $1.08-million, according to Don Shea, Hillsborough's director of community improvements.

    Shea takes a cynical view of the county's chances of collecting even a dime of the code enforcement fines, and said he isn't surprised that Green has turned his investment eye to an upscale charter airline business.

    "He is someone who engages in these kind of moneymaking ventures," Shea said. "I'm not that surprised that the county is not being paid or that the working-man contractor is not being paid."

    Green's lawyer doesn't see it that way.

    "Mr. Green is a dynamic and diverse businessman with ventures across the country," said Glenn Goldberg, Green's Pinellas County attorney. "As would any businessman of this magnitude, there are always going to be ventures that succeed while others do not."

    In May 2001, Green, as president of Amberwood Realty, signed for a $9.04-million mortgage from First Union National Bank on the Amberwood Apartments.

    A year later, as the county was shutting down the apartments, Green's company stopped making its $73,422-a-month mortgage payments, court papers say.

    In November, Wells Fargo Bank Minnesota, which had acquired the loan from First Union, filed a foreclosure suit against Amberwood Realty. The bank has first right to the apartment assets and says it is owed $9.62-million.

    But Hillsborough Property Appraiser Rob Turner puts the market value of the apartments at just $5.96-million.

    "There is really no hope of the county getting any of that code enforcement money," Shea said. "The reality is that the bank has too much exposure."

    Green, 38, is a Yonkers businessman who amassed a fortune in real estate in New York in the early 1990s before a crackdown by the city's Department of Housing Preservation and Development.

    Since 1991, New York has sued Green and his realty company more than 40 times in an effort to correct thousands of code violations in 14 residential buildings, according to city records.

    In one case, the city forced Green to sell a 90-unit complex of garden apartments in Queens where 1,400 code violations resulted in $1.4-million in fines. The city went to court 10 times on behalf of tenants who were being denied heat or hot water.

    New York housing officials also executed two arrest warrants against Green for contempt of court in connection with code violations. Green was charged with criminal contempt of court and sentenced to the maximum 30 days in jail, records show.

    Housing spokesperson Carol Abrams said the city still has fines totaling more than $2.27-million against Green that it has been unable to collect.

    Goldberg said Green questions the validity of the New York fines and said there is pending litigation to have all the fines dismissed.

    Abrams said city attorneys looked at the possibility of trying to attach the three passenger jets comprising the fleet of Green Air, but determined that title problems made the idea unworkable.

    Green Air's two Cessnas and the Hawker are titled in three different companies, according to FAA records: Green Aviation I, Green Aviation II and Green Aviation III.

    "We think he's hidden a lot of things," Abrams said of Green. "It's enormously frustrating."

    -- Times researcher John Martin contributed to this story.

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