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    $600,000 Super Bowl rental may involve Bilzerian

    [Times photo: Mike Pease]
    Paul Bilzerian's mansion is in the north Tampa community of Avila.

    By SCOTT BARANCIK

    © St. Petersburg Times, published January 24, 2001


    TAMPA -- For $600,000 per week, Super Bowl revelers may soon be able to do what the Securities and Exchange Commission has tried to do for the past decade: get into Paul Bilzerian's Avila home.

    Ads in Sunday's New York Times and Baltimore Sun offer a week at a 36,000-square-foot home in the Tampa Bay area. The home has 10 bedrooms, a 6,000-square-foot guest house, two libraries, movie theater, indoor basketball court, racquetball court, exercise rooms, pool, nine-car garage and elevator. Included in the deal: six luxury skybox seats for the big game.

    photo
    Bilzerian
    The ads do not say who owns the lakefront home or where it is located. Pat Colmenares, the Tampa Realtor handling the rental, refused to say, citing the owner's wishes.

    But a photo of the house, its list of amenities and the property's dimensions suggest it is the gated mansion occupied by Bilzerian and his extended family. The Hillsborough County Property Appraiser's Office says it knows of no other private abode that size in the bay area.

    And Colmenares was the listing agent for Bilzerian's home when it was briefly for sale in late 1998 and early 1999.

    "That's gotta be him," said Warren Weathers, chief deputy of the appraiser's office. "There is no other house in Hillsborough County with an interior basketball court."

    Contacted about the ads, Bilzerian's wife, Terri Steffen, said only, "I have nothing to say. There's no rental."

    The ads are an intriguing development in the continuing saga of Bilzerian, 50. The former corporate takeover artist served 13 months in prison and paid a $1.5-million fine in the early 1990s after being convicted of securities fraud and conspiracy to defraud the government.

    Since then, Bilzerian has used his formidable legal skills and, according to U.S. District Judge Stanley Harris in Washington, a pattern of deception to protect the home and other family assets from the grasp of creditors. In a Jan. 2 bankruptcy filing, he admitted to nearly $140-million in debts, including a $100-million fraud judgment to the Securities and Exchange Commission, and just $15,805 in assets.

    But Bilzerian's luck might be running out.

    Accusing him of hiding valuable assets, Harris recently ordered Bilzerian to surrender to U.S. marshals in Tampa and remain in prison until he fully divulges his holdings to a court-appointed receiver. The judge subsequently extended the deadline to next Tuesday after Bilzerian hired an attorney to prepare an appeal.

    And on Feb. 8, a U.S. Bankruptcy Court judge in Tampa will hear arguments from the SEC that Bilzerian's recent bankruptcy filing should be thrown out and should not prevent his imprisonment.

    Colmenares, whose Colmenares Group is affiliated with Smith & Associates Realtors, said a number of corporations and celebrities have called to inquire about the $600,000-a-week rental since Sunday. So, too, have Baltimore radio and television stations intrigued by the high-priced property.

    "I thought it was a great idea," said Colmenares, who said the idea to rent the property was hers, not the owner's. "I really sort of twisted (the owner's) arm."

    The Tampa mansion is not the only luxury property Colmenares is handling for Super Bowl week. On Monday, she was asked to find renters for a 105-foot sport fisherman's yacht complete with four staterooms, a full-time chef and crew, a mooring at the Imperial Yacht Center in South Tampa, and six Super Bowl tickets. Cost: $100,000 per week, including food.

    But if the huge home for rent turns out to be Bilzerian's north Tampa mansion, apparently owned by an offshore trust controlled by his in-laws, it undoubtedly will be the most controversial rental.

    What, for example, will happen to the $600,000 if a renter is found? When the Bilzerian home was for sale in 1999, a federal judge ordered Colmenares to freeze the proceeds of any transaction, pending a determination of who they truly belonged to.

    There's also the question of whether the $600,000 or some part of it might be used to pay Bilzerian's new lawyers. Roger Whelan, outside counsel with the Shaw Pittman law firm in Washington and a former U.S. Bankruptcy Court judge, said he is working "just about" full time on Bilzerian's case, along with the head of the firm's litigation group and two associates.

    As with many parts of the Bilzerian saga, however, the answer to how a supposedly threadbare man pays for four high-powered attorneys may remain opaque.

    Under federal law, Whelan said, an attorney who represents a debtor in bankruptcy court must disclose the source of his payments. But Shaw Pittman's attorneys are representing Bilzerian only in the case involving the SEC. Bilzerian, though not a lawyer, continues to handle the bankruptcy case himself.

    "We're focusing solely on what's proceeding here in the District of Columbia," Whelan said. "That's Mr. Bilzerian's choice."

    - Contact Scott Barancik at barancik@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3404.

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