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Business Observer Friday, Nov. 17, 2017 1 year ago

Investor hits back at bank

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Marvin Kaplin is suing Regions Bank in federal court.

Area businessman Marvin Kaplan says he knows what it's like to be wrongly accused — publicly — in a $24 million Ponzi-like scheme. He knows what it's like to be turned into a financial pariah in the town where he had done millions of dollars worth of deals for years.

Now Kaplan is suing the main entity he says put him in that spot: Regions Bank. Kaplan, in a federal lawsuit filed in Tampa Nov. 9, contends Birmingham, Ala.-based Regions “demonstrated malice” and “proceeded with callous indifference to Kaplan's rights, livelihood and reputation,” when it sued him in 2012.

In a civil trial held in May, Regions alleged Kaplan criminally colluded with Gary Truman Smith and his son, Gary Todd Smith, principals behind a Fayetteville, N.C., advertising firm, in a check-kiting scam. Kaplan, an entrepreneur and real estate investor based in Sarasota, has always maintained he was a victim of the Smiths' scam, not a co-conspirator. (The Smiths were ultimately charged in a separate case; Gary Todd Smith, 47, pleaded guilty to fraud and related charges in early June. Charges are pending against Gary Truman Smith.)

U.S. District Court Judge Elizabeth Kovachevich agreed with Kaplan, that he was a victim, not a criminal. “There is no evidence that Marvin Kaplan had actual knowledge that the transactions were not legitimate,” Kovachevich, based in Tampa, wrote in her June 23 ruling.

The malicious prosecution lawsuit Kaplan filed Nov. 9, through his Naples-based attorney, Jon Parrish, contends Kaplan “has been damaged from Regions' actions, including but not limited to, damage from fees and costs expended defending Regions' claims, loss of business and investment opportunities due to his damaged reputation and inability to open a bank account, emotional suffering and mental anguish and other special damages.”

Kaplan's lawsuit seeks an unspecified amount of compensatory and punitive damages and attorney's fees and costs. Kaplan, in an interview in June after the trial, says he sold off assets to pay $1.5 million in legal fees.

Regions Bank officials didn't return an email and phone message for comment. A bank spokesman declined to comment in June, after the first trial.

Parrish, in a statement, says Kaplan and his wife lost most of their life savings in the Smith-run scheme.

“But, as if that was not enough, Kaplan and his wife were victimized yet again, not by Smith, but by his own bank,” Parrish adds. “In its effort to hide the fact that it's own antiquated computer systems allowed millions of dollars to be wired to the Ponzi scheme operator that appeared to be in Kaplan's accounts but actually were not, Regions Bank tried to shift the blame away from its dismal management practices to Kaplan, falsely accusing him of criminally colluding with Smith with no evidence whatsoever, ruining his reputation and his business. And it did all of this to divert attention from its own mistakes and mismanagement.”

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