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Creditor fight blocks restaurant plan for Neill's Flight property

A Miami architect and builder wants to open an upscale Italian restaurant in the former Flight Wood Grill property if a sale of the property is approved in bankruptcy court.

Renzo Maietto said he plans to open the restaurant in the historic First Bank and Trust space that was last operated as Flight by attorney Sam Neill.
Neill is awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty to federal charges of tax evasion and state charges of misappropriating money from clients' trust funds. A court date in Henderson County Superior Court originally set for this week was scratched because Neill has not been sentenced in federal court.
Prosecutors and Neill's defense attorney agreed that the federal sentencing would come before Neill faces state sentencing. The federal sentencing date cannot be set until a pre-sentencing investigation is done and that still is not finished, Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Edwards said.
Neill has offered the 401 N. Main St. property as a settlement and restitution in one of the cases he has pleaded guilty to but bankruptcy court records show that the property is encumbered by debt of $1.1 million.
Maietto said in an interview that he wants to open the restaurant if he is able to sign a lease with a new property owner.
Maietto, who has a home here, has formed or is the registered agents for 51 companies in Florida, according to Florida secretary of state records.
He owns a nine-bedroom, nine-bathroom Mediterranean-style home in Miami called Casa Florence that rents for $1,700 to $2,200 per night night, $9,500 a week and $32,000 a month, according to a website that offers it to vacationers.
Maietto has been working with Hendersonville architect Bill O'Cain on his plans to open the restaurant if the property ever gets disentangled in bankruptcy court. O'Cain said no one can do anything until the property fight is resolved in court.

Creditors object to sale
TJF Enterprises has made an offer to buy the ground-floor property and restaurant equipment for $399,000 and the bankruptcy trustee who is supposed to represent the creditors' best interest has endorsed the sale. But that's not the end of it.
A crowd of creditors stands in the way of court approval.
TJF, the company owned by the golf course designer Tom Fazio of Hendersonville and Palm Beach, owns a $170,000 lien on the property from Neill. In addition to that lien, the property is encumbered by a TD Bank lien for $459,000, a second position deed of trust Neill granted to the Irene Meinke estate for $350,000 and unsecured obligations of $160,000, Neill's attorney, Rodney Kight, said in a court filing objecting to the sale to Fazio.
The property is worth more, Kight said. A TD Bank appraisal put the value at $870,000 in March 2011, he said. An offer by one restaurateur to lease the property for $5,500 a month and Maietto's offer to lease it for $6,500 a month would put the value at $675,000 to $800,000, Kight said.
Bankruptcy trustee Landon Cooper told the court that the TJF offer is in the best interest of the estate and its creditors. TJF has been an arm's length purchaser, Cooper said, and it is financially capable of making the purchase. Neill, Cooper said in a separate court motion, has been uncooperative in helping the trustee sort out the business value of the property, stonewalling demands for documents and demonstrating what Cooper described as a "catch me if you can" attitude toward the trustee. Cooper also has asked the court to convert the Flight bankruptcy from a Chapter 11 reorganization to a Chapter 7 liquidation. Neill's actions have ensured that "there can be no reorganization" and the property needs to be liquidated for the creditors, Cooper said.
Cooper asked the bankruptcy court to approve the sale to TJF Enterprises for $399,000 — $377,000 for the property and $22,000 for the restaurant equipment.
Neill, TD Bank and the attorney for the Meinke estate, R. Charles Waters, have all objected.
Waters said the price is too low and the proposed $32,000 real estate commission is "inappropriate under these circumstances." A sale for $400,000 would mean that the Meinke estate would get nothing, he said. Neill stole $900,000 from the Meinke estate, according to the state indictment.
Cooper, the bankruptcy trustee, is seeking to void the deed of trust that Neill signed over to the Meinke estate on the grounds that he granted the deed after embezzling from the estate.
A U.S. Bankruptcy Court hearing on the sale of the property is set for March 20.