Criminally charged city manager faces lawsuit

By Bob Norman - Investigative Reporter

SOUTH BAY, Fla. - When Lena Barnes heard that Corey Alston had been accused of stealing money from the city of South Bay, she wasn't all that surprised.

After all, she says she felt that Alston, who was suspended as the South Bay city manager when the criminal case was made against him last month, had ripped her off. And she rues the day he knocked on her door.

"I call it black-on-black crime," said the 67-year-old Barnes. "That doesn't always involve a gun."

Barnes has a civil lawsuit filed against Alston alleging fraud in a case involving her home, an old and worn-down shotgun home built in the 1950s by her father. The small and dilapidated home isn't worth much, but the land it sits on, five blocks north of Broward Boulevard on Arts Avenue, is commercially zoned development land.

Alston, who is president of the Black Democratic Caucus in Broward and once ran for state senate, introduced himself to her back in 2008 and told her he wanted to buy it. The original price was nearly $300,000, but then he offered to buy the lot for $180,000 and give her a three bedroom, two bath condo that he planned to build on the site. She took the deal.

Alston took out a loan to pay part of it and the brunt of that $75,000 was dispersed to other relatives of Barnes' father. Then Alston wrote $65,000 in checks to Barnes to pay for a portion of the rest.

The checks, says, Barnes, bounced, part of what her attorney, John Rayson, calls the "trail of tears in this case." After that, the foreclosure letters began to arrive. They were made out to Alston, so she actually delivered them to Alston's mother, since she didn't know where he actually lived. Then she was told that the property that was being foreclosed were her own because Alston had skipped payments on the loan. 

"I was devastated," she remembers. "My daddy worked all these years for this and I didn't want to lose it like this."

But it looked grim, the loan was tied to the property and Alston was AWOL. That's when a rather unorthodox method was used to save the property. Rayson, a former state representative and Pompano Beach mayor himself, formed a trust in which he and others -- including John Ryan, the brother and partner of current Broward County Commissioner Tim Ryan -- invested to pay off the loan. It took $88,000 to satisfy the lender. Now Rayson and the investors have put Barnes' former home up for sale and are allowing her to live there until a buyer turns up. 

Once it's sold the trust will recoup its money, plus eight percent interest, and the rest of it will go to Barnes and other heirs. A look-up of the property shows that it's listed at $158,000. "All these people will have to be paid back whatever is left is what I will have," she said. "So where does that leave me? I don't want to spend my days wondering what might happen."

Barnes isn't the only one who has taken legal action against Corey Alston alleging property fraud and bad checks. In 2008, a civil complaint was filed by a plaintiff named Yao Dinizulu alleging Alston had breached a promissory note for a property in North Lauderdale and had passed bad checks in the deal. Late that year, a final judgment of $110,000 was entered against Alston in that case. It's unclear if that matter has been resolved.

Incredibly, his former elementary school teacher also claims she lost a property to Alston. Delores Sallette said she and her cousin, trusting Alston, sold Alston a property and have yet to be paid. No legal action has been taken in that case. 

"He operates on what I consider to be a murky foundation of entities that either don't exist or are operated by him personally," said Rayson. "Even though I was aware of shady practices let's say, I was shocked to learn that was charged with grand theft."

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