Investors sue, feds get involved as St. Clair County casino plan tanks
BY CHRISTY ARBOSCELLO • FREE PRESS STAFF WRITER - February 9, 2009
Anthony Defeo was a charismatic businessman and a developer with a vision, offering investors an opportunity for the chance of a lifetime
But that dream deal quickly soured for financers who say the $600-million project presented by the entrepreneur proved too good to be true.
Defeo, who claimed riches from other financial undertakings, convinced them he had the inside track on a casino project with the federal government and an American Indian tribe. The project, he boasted, had received the personal stamp of approval from none other than then-President George W. Bush.
He showed them paperwork, eased their fears with thorough answers and gingerly maintained relationships -- until he got at least $2 million from investors, according to more than 20 lawsuits in Macomb County Circuit Court.
Now, with his plans for the development of a casino and entertainment hub in St. Clair County at a standstill, investors don't know where Defeo -- or their money -- has gone.
And they're not the only ones interested in tracking down the 57-year-old New York native whose last known address was in Bloomfield Hills. Federal authorities also are trying to find him, the Free Press has learned.
"I think Mr. Defeo is very elusive. ... I can't substantiate unofficial reports that he's in different states throughout the country," said Warren-based lawyer Anthony Penna, who represents Defeo's landlord, Grillo Properties of Chesterfield Township.
The company said Defeo owes more than $500,000 in unpaid rent and improvements made to an office he leased on Dalcoma Drive in Clinton Township.
Investor Thomas Frank, 53, of Washington Township said he's out $100,000. He served as a project manager for the entertainment hub and casino.
Frank said Defeo gained the trust of influential businesspeople, doctors and lawyers for the five-year development by showing them contracts and meeting with them weekly at another one of his offices, at 19 Mile in Clinton Township, and other places, such as the Troy Marriott.
It wasn't until last summer that anyone doubted his ability to bring the project to life.
"We repeatedly called. We repeatedly left messages. We trusted him. He seemed like a nice guy," said Frank, who was hired for his 30 years of construction experience.
ANTHONY DEFEO: Businessman got $2 million from investors, according to more than 20 lawsuits in Macomb County Circuit Court.
Allegations against developer Anthony Defeo mounting -- 2/10/09
Millions vanish with developer Anthony Defeo -- 2/9/09
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