Boca Raton: Mayoral candidate in dispute over repayment of 2003 loan

BocaWatch publisher Zucaro in race again

By Steve Plunkett

Al Zucaro, who is running for the second time in 17 months to be mayor of Boca Raton, has not repaid a $406,000 business loan a judge ruled that he owed nine years ago, the lender’s lawyer says.

With interest accruing daily, the debt now tops $700,000, said attorney Bernard Lebedeker, who represents hotel owner Joseph Della Ratta’s DR Palm Beach Inc., which lent the money in 2003.

The West Palm Beach lawyer had Zucaro bring copies of his 2015, 2016 and 2017 tax returns and bank statements to a mid-April deposition. He also wanted to see canceled checks and other financial information.

“There’s no indication by him that he’s willing to pay the debt,” Lebedeker said. “The position he’s taken in his deposition is he can’t afford to pay the judgment.”

But Zucaro says he offered Della Ratta a settlement “months ago” to resolve their dispute.

“I made a proposal and I have not gotten a definitive no,” Zucaro said in late May.

Zucaro will face Mayor Scott Singer and real estate agent Bernard Korn in the Aug. 28 special election to fill suspended Mayor Susan Haynie’s seat. Qualifying ended May 30.

Boca Raton pays its mayor $38,000 a year.

Zucaro said he is running on a platform of bringing “open and transparent” government to City Hall.

“There seems to be a lot of things that are negotiated [by city officials], but I find it difficult to find where the negotiators are getting their directions from,” he said.

Despite his outstanding debt, Zucaro financed more than half of his unsuccessful 2017 run against Haynie. Zucaro lent his campaign $15,000 and then wrote checks for $47,750 more, for a total of $62,750. Other supporters gave $48,267.

Zucaro closed out his campaign by repaying himself $82.91 of his contributions, election finance records show.

Haynie in contrast lent her campaign $250 and took in $133,368 in donations. She repaid herself in full following her win.

Zucaro said he does not anticipate spending as much this time around, even though Singer has almost $73,000 in his war chest after opening a campaign account last October.

“I do not believe this campaign is going to be as difficult as the last campaign,” Zucaro said.

Zucaro, 68, an immigration lawyer who also publishes, listed his law practice, his International Council of Advisors LLC consultancy and Social Security benefits as his primary sources of income on his 2018 campaign Statement of Financial Interests.

He reported lesser amounts, termed secondary sources of income, from his World Trade Management LLC, his Palm Beach Investment and Finance LLC and in legal fees from Shoppes on 18th Street Inc., a holding company owned by his wife, Yvonne Boice. That business sold Boice’s Shoppes at Village Point shopping center west of the city in 2014 for $12.25 million.

Zucaro, who lives in his wife’s house on Golden Harbour Drive, also reported that he owns no real property. The only liability he listed was his debt to DR Palm Beach.

Della Ratta’s company owns the Best Western Palm Beach Lakes Inn in West Palm Beach, which celebrated its 50th anniversary in May, and the nearby Hawthorn Suites by Wyndham hotel on Lamberton Drive.

DR Palm Beach lent Zucaro and World Trade Management $240,000 in 2003 and sued four years later after not being repaid.

In 2009, Palm Beach Circuit Judge Donald Hafele said the evidence showed Zucaro spent much of the money on personal expenses instead of using it as intended to lure international business to Palm Beach County. He entered a judgment requiring Zucaro to repay the loan with 8 percent interest, making the total then $406,000.

Zucaro, who had come under fire in West Palm Beach for how he managed his struggling World Trade Center, appealed and lost.

Zucaro blames the dispute on “a very serious financial upheaval” the nation experienced.

“The results are what they are,” he said. “It was just a business deal that didn’t work out.”

Lebedeker said Zucaro has taken steps to shield his assets but said Della Ratta might try to put a levy on ownership of the businesses Zucaro operates.

“If push comes to shove, you can always file a petition for involuntary bankruptcy,” Lebedeker said.

He also said he was surprised to learn that Zucaro was again in the race for Boca Raton mayor.

“When you run for office you put your character on display,” Lebedeker said. “The last thing [voters] want to do is put somebody with debt in office.”

Zucaro would not predict whether his debt would register at the ballot box.

“You never know what causes people to vote or not vote,” he said. 

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Comment by Katie Barr on June 26, 2018 at 3:10pm

Al Zucaro would have gotten better treatment in foreclosure court than from this $$$ seeking attorney. 
What investor or entrepreneur did not get swept up in the real estate boom only to strike out when the market crashed?  Really - is this news?
Scott Singer made a decision to allow variances on our beach dunes, that will end up costing Boca taxpayers millions of dollars. He is very fond of using the 'H' word (I'm a Harvard lawyer) but during his tenure the city has been slammed with a record number of lawsuits from business owners and residents alike. Worst of all our city hangs it's head in shame as Susan Haynie is arrested following a 4 year FBI investigation, with all the lawyers on city council no one saw this coming? Enough is enough, clear the deck and vote for Al Zucaro on August 28th.

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