tampabay.com

$5.55-million bidder takes Avila mansion

But $4-million from Paul Bilzerian's auctioned home may go to pay mortgages and attorneys.

By BILL COATS
Published December 12, 2006


TAMPA - The sprawling but embattled mansion in north Hillsborough County built by Paul Bilzerian was auctioned for $5.55-million Monday by a bankruptcy judge.

"It was a good investment," said Clearwater auctioneer Michael Peters, the winning bidder. "I got a good price on it. ...I'm happy."

A company owned by Peters also was high bidder in an April auction of the same house, before those auction results were thwarted by legal disputes.

Because of auction fees in April, Peters would have paid $6.55-million if the sale had gone through. "I saved a million dollars," Peters said.

Peters, owner of American Heritage Auctioneers, said he had a buyer lined up last summer, but no longer. He said he may try to sell the mansion or may move in himself.

Peters also said he was willing to rent the 28,363-square-foot house in Avila to Bilzerian, the former corporate raider who lives there now with his wife, Terri Steffen.

But family attorney David Hammer said the Bilzerians are planning to move shortly to another Avila home Steffen bought in February.

The new home is roughly a tenth the size of the mansion, which sports 11 bedrooms, 17 bathrooms, an indoor basketball court and a huge guest house. The house is valued for tax purposes at $4.7-million and was privately appraised in 2004 at $4.3-million.

Bilzerian built the spectacular house in the early 1990s as the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission prepared criminal and civil penalties against him for violating securities laws.

Ultimately, the SEC hit Bilzerian with a 13-month prison term, a $1.5-million fine and a $62-million lawsuit judgment.

Florida law allowed Bilzerian to shield the mansion from those actions. However, after a judge sent Bilzerian to prison for hiding other assets, he and Steffen agreed to sell the house and split the proceeds with the SEC.

A sale of $2.55-million was followed by private transactions that gave 99 percent ownership of the mansion to Bilzerian's in-laws, but legal control of it to Mary Haire, mother of Bilzerian's next-door neighbor Ernie Haire.

The Haires, co-owners of Ernie Haire Ford, said they entered the deal to help friends. But last year, the friendships began to fracture. The two sides have been embroiled in court since March, and Mary Haire's expenses will come out of the auction proceeds. Each side blames the other for excess litigation.

Regardless, more than $4-million of Monday's $5.55-million auction amount may be plucked away to pay off mortgages and attorneys. Michael Williamson, the U.S. Bankruptcy judge, must sort out the claims.

Hammer, the attorney, expressed dismay following the auction. He said the Bilzerians were evaluating their legal options.

"This property's been sold at a small fraction of its value," Hammer said.

Bill Coats can be reached at 813 269-5309 or coats@sptimes.com.