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Otter Key resident sues condo board

A festering feud ends up in court. Another resident tries to force a revote on a repair.

By ANNE LINDBERG
Published July 27, 2005


SEMINOLE - For almost three years, condo owner Ian Murphy and the board of the Otter Key Condominiums have been at odds.

First it was a battle of words, letters and a Web site that panned Otter Key and its board. Now it's a lawsuit.

In the lawsuit filed this month in Pinellas County Circuit Court, Murphy accuses the board members of harassment that began the day he moved in, libel and wrongful denial of his right to have access to his electric meter and breaker box. He also accuses them of misappropriating association money by paying for a criminal background check on him.

Murphy is asking for an unspecified amount of damages.

He declined to comment Tuesday, saying his attorney would not allow him to talk about the case because it is in litigation.

Tampa attorney Steve Mezer, who represents the board, was on vacation and could not be reached for comment, but Mezer has said that Murphy has escalated the dispute by constant goading and threats. His clients are terrified of Murphy, he has said.

Gilda Dinsmore, president of the condo owners association and one of the named defendants in the suit, declined to comment.

"There's a lot I could say, but I'm not," Dinsmore said.

Murphy's lawsuit is just the beginning of board members' problems. Another owner, Paul Waters, recently led a revolt of sorts over repairs to the mansard.

Waters collected enough names on a petition to try to force a revote on the project, which he thinks is overpriced at $161,000. It is more important to replace the roof, which has some leaks, he said. But Waters said the board refused to reconsider the matter.

He has repeatedly asked board members for a copy of the contract but has never received one, even though he has been referred to both the management company and the board's attorney. Waters is also upset because access to the roof has been chained and padlocked.

The whole situation makes him suspicious and edgy, he said.

"I've been stonewalled for six weeks," Waters said. "I think the people in this community deserve to know what's going on. . . . There is something going on beyond what they are saying."

At one point, Waters said, he was told repairs were on hold because there was a problem with one of the tenants. That was about the time Murphy filed his suit.

The lawsuit lays out a litany of complaints about the board. Those include:

A board member told Murphy he had to move his truck away from the front door of the building while he was moving in "in case an ambulance needed to be summoned."

Murphy used an association shopping cart to help move his belongings into his condo, only to find the next day that someone had "forcibly wedged" the cart into his door so he could not leave his condo.

Someone placed a label on his mailbox that said "MURPHY, Idiot."

The board sent Murphy a letter reprimanding him for the lint his clothes dryer was blowing onto the walkways and told him to clean it.

A condo association officer announced at a meeting that Murphy is an "arsonist, a drug addict and had mental problems."

Another unit owner taped an e-mail letter to the main bulletin board saying that Murphy is an "arsonist, made bombs, spent most of his life in prison or under psychiatric care, used to live on the streets and has no income."

As a result, Murphy began to receive hate mail from other condo owners, his lawsuit contends.

Police records show no convictions for Murphy regarding arson or making bombs. He did serve 21/2 years' probation for hacking into AT&T's computers and helping to change the clocks so customers were charged wrongly. Murphy, who called himself Captain Zap, was one of four people involved in the crime. He was arrested in 1981.

He now has a consulting company, IAM Secure Data Systems, that helps companies protect themselves against hackers like him.

And he has a Web site, www.otterkey.com to lay out his complaints about the homeowners association and the management company.

The homeowners association had not yet filed an answer to Murphy's allegations early this week.