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I Want My Money: A Palmyra depositor’s decade-long wait

Published:Friday | January 27, 2017 | 12:00 AMNeville Graham
A section of Palmyra Resort & Spa while it was under construction, as seen in 2008.

Robert Garland, Jr came to Jamaica for the first time 15 years ago as a cruise ship passenger.

That was the beginning of a love affair he sought to deepen, but which later turned sour.

At one time, the American thought of retiring at age 55, but had put his retirement nest egg into a three-bedroom unit and a penthouse suite at the Palmyra condominium resort complex a decade ago.

Now, at age 61, he is still working, and his thoughts about Jamaica are consumed with recouping his deposits. And he is angry.

"We were attracted by the country itself and we liked being down in Jamaica. A home there would have been ideal, so we wanted to get two - one for rental and the other strictly for the family," Garland told the Financial Gleaner.

Garland describes himself as a US government employee in the security profession who, from time to time, would reward himself and his family with a vacation.

They became frequent visitors to Jamaica. On one of their jaunts, they passed the site of the Palmyra construction, and after checking out the project, opted to invest.

Palmyra was conceptualised by Robert Trotta as a luxury resort fronting the sea at Rose Hall in Montego Bay. The project launched in 2005, but six years later, the condo complex, still incomplete, was placed in receivership by its bankers after alleging that Trotta and his companies had defaulted on the loans. Trotta is still fighting the takeover in court.

Garland said he joined with his wife Trisha to put up US$738,000 on the two units between May 2006 and October 2009, with a view to closing the acquisitions when construction was complete.

Derailed by receivership

"We actually went down for a viewing. Once we did the down payment, they had a very large meet-and-greet event, where we met other owners and things of that nature," Garland said.

But, unexpectedly, the receivership happened. And it happened before Garland got his units.

"Some of those locations were complete before others. Ours was not, since it was a different side of the building. Once they went into receivership, everything was held up. They've got approximately US$740,000 of our money that they've been holding for the last nine years," he said.

Last year, after several failed attempts at finding a buyer for the incomplete Palmyra project, the receivers finally landed a buyer. Sagicor's managed funds bought the development for around US$50 million - the exact price is still to be confirmed - and while that means depositors like Garland are to be compensated, they won't get all their money back.

The Jamaican courts previously ruled that, proportionally, the Palmyra depositors and the bankers are to be compensated at the same rate. The precise debts outstanding to both groups have also not been disclosed, but banks and bondholders together lent the project US$110 million.

Those debts outpace the proceeds from the sale to Sagicor by more than two times.

Before the Real Estate Board, headed by Sandra Watson, stepped in and got the court to order protection for depositors, Garland said he tried to get his money back from receiver Ken Tomlinson, but was told that they were not giving refunds at that time.

"We had to go to settlement at the back end and we were not given that opportunity. The biggest thing is that Ms Watson and her agency, when I asked her this morning about our funds, she told us that we were getting cents on the dollar," Garland said on the day of the interview.

New negotiations

He said the Real Estate Board had sent him a document earlier in 2016 indicating that he would be refunded an approximate value, with three per cent interest. That has now been superseded.

"Now all of that has been washed away, apparently. I know there is a sale. There was no total amount, but the value that we were discussing was approximately US$530,000 at three per cent interest over that period of time (nine years)," Garland charged.

He also sees his plans to retire slipping even further away.

Watson told the Financial Gleaner in early January that in the wake of the sale to Sagicor, lawyers were negotiating a settlement for 58 Palmyra depositors.

"My intent is to receive the funds that they say they are gonna disburse sometime next week or the week after next, and I'll probably use that money to take them to court and continue with the lawsuit. I am hoping to group together with the other 49 [subset of depositors] and get some justice done out of this," Garland said. "... We'll probably have to work until we are 70 years old" to retire.

Garland says while he was not financially ruined by his investment in Palmyra, he would feel a lot better if he recovered all his money.

"I am hoping that I can get my money back so that I can put part of my life back together. My life is pretty much intact, but financially, I'd be better off if I got my money back," he said.