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Coffee Talk
Business Observer Friday, May 14, 2004 18 years ago

Coffee Talk (Tampa edition)

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This week's items: Sheen Todd still interested in clerk post?Falkner v. Falkner, part twoInfinium Labs Inc. of Sarasota released it pricing scale for its new Phantom gaming system

Coffee Talk (Tampa edition)

Todd still interested in clerk post?

Is Pinellas County Commissioner Barbara Sheen Todd about to follow the lead of a Hillsborough County counterpart and run for circuit court clerk?

Todd didn't return GCBR's calls before deadline, but she is said to be still sounding out other Pinellas Republicans about her availability.

If Todd decides to go for it, she would be the second Tampa Bay area county commissioner to enter a clerk's election race. Hillsborough Commissioner Pat Frank is running in her county. Long-time clerks Karleen F. DeBlaker in Pinellas and Richard Ake in Hillsborough are retiring at the end of the year.

Todd, a Pinellas commissioner for most of the past quarter of a century, originally filed to raise money for a U.S. Senate campaign. But she withdrew when federal housing secretary Mel Martinez returned to Florida to try to win the Republican nomination to succeed Bob Graham.

There are already three announced candidates in Pinellas to take the place of DeBlaker, who will be paid $135,222 this year.

Clearwater Mayor Brian J. Aungst, the prohibitive frontrunner, had raised $83,718 in cash and spent $11,534 by March 31. Aungst has been mayor since 1999 and a public-relations executive for a local cable television company since 1988.

Aungst says he's heard that Todd will stay out of his contest. "I've raised about $95,000, which is a lot for a clerk's race," he says. "I don't know how much money is left out there for an office like this."

Seminole law office administrator Ken Burke, Aungst's lone GOP opponent for now, had $30,373 in cash and spent $5,323 of it by the end of the first quarter of 2004.

Oldsmar health care consultant Carolyn "Carrie" Wadlinger, who has no foe in the Democratic primary so far, had collected $6,136 in cash and spent almost $3,000, as of the end of March.

Falkner v. Falkner, part two

If you can't trust your father, whom can you trust?

Two sons and a daughter of Michigan agribusinessman August John Falkner Jr. say they trusted their father and they have lived to regret it.

Thomas Falkner, Christopher Falkner and Linda Falkner Wright, who already are keeping Tampa lawyer David A. Maney busy with a lawsuit against brother August John Falkner III, have hired another local barrister to sue their father as well.

The new complaint, filed by attorney Arnold D. Levine in Tampa's federal district court, accuses John Falkner Jr., his grandson, another of his daughters and her husband, of conspiring with John III to defraud the three siblings of their rightful share of the property and profits from a lucrative family farming operation in Manatee and Hillsborough counties.

The three plaintiffs have been embroiled in litigation with John III for more than a year. (See "Feuding Falkners," GCBR, May 7-13.) John Falkner Jr., or "Father John," as he is called in the latest lawsuit, clearly sides with his oldest son John III in the first case. The latest suit drags Father John into the dispute as a named party.

Tom, Chris and Linda contend they had an unwritten agreement with John III to divide the labor on the farms and share in the bounty. The Falkner siblings started coming to Florida from their native Michigan in 1985 and have acquired 25,000 acres to farm in the two counties.

Tom planted and harvested the cucumbers, peppers and tomatoes. Chris managed farm operations. John III sold the crops and Linda kept the books.

But Father John and John III haven't given them a fair cut of the Florida farming profits over the past 20 years, according to the plaintiffs.

The aggrieved siblings claim they relied on "repeated assurances" from their father and brother that a formal written partnership agreement was unnecessary. They let their father and brother acquire real estate, financed by their share of the farm profits, and put the land in the name of John Falkner.

Then, in one instance, John III transferred title of some of the John Falkner property to his son, John Falkner IV, without the grandson having to pay any consideration, according to the lawsuit.

At one time, according to court records, the Falkners enjoyed a mutual trust that in retrospect looks astonishing when the size of their multimillion-dollar business is considered.

According to the new lawsuit, for example, Father John prepared the federal income tax returns of both Tom and Chris Falkner and their wives. By performing that chore, Father John was able to let John III claim sole ownership of farming equipment purchased with the profits of all four siblings. The lawsuit suggests that arrangement unjustly benefited John III's personal tax position.

Letting dad do the tax returns cost the two brothers in another way, according to the lawsuit. John III used a Raymond James & Associates Inc. brokerage account opened in Tom's name to stash Vlasic Foods International Inc. options that had been bought with family farm profits. The Falkners supplied cucumbers to Vlasic for pickling. Vlasic later went through bankruptcy proceedings and the plaintiffs say the family lost $12 million on John III's investments in the pickle maker.

According to the new lawsuit, however, John III and his wife took the deductions for the Vlasic losses on their federal returns. The siblings argue they, too, should have been able to take some of the deductions since John III bought the Vlasic options with a portion of their farm profits.

Father John, who couldn't be reached for comment at his Michigan telephone numbers, has not yet responded in court.

Rock Bottom Pricing?

Just prior to the 2004 Electronic Entertainment Expo, Infinium Labs Inc. of Sarasota released it pricing scale for its new Phantom gaming system - a pricing system more akin to the Internet Service Provider market than the typical video-game console pricing.

Infinium is offering the Phantom Receiver with controllers free-of-charge in exchange for a two-year basic subscription to Phantom Gaming Services, currently priced at $29.95 a month. Basic math puts the price of owning the system for two years at about $719, excluding tax. In addition, the gaming service requires the user to have access to a broadband ISP of at least DSL speeds, which probably adds a minimum of $30 to the monthly price. Infinium is also offering a direct console purchase price of $199, with $8 deducted from the monthly service price.

Compared to the normal console price paradigm, the Phantom is likely more expensive. Microsoft Corp.'s Xbox and Sony Computer Entertainment Inc.'s Playstation 2 both debuted for about $300 retail, while Nintendo's GameCube started even lower. Since then Xbox and Playstation 2 have dropped below $200 and the GameCube dipped to the $100 mark.

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