MANATEE -- A landlord is suing Manatee County Rural Health Services and one of its physicians, contending they have not made any monthly office-lease payments in 2 1/2 years.
The agency and Dr. Eric Mudafort now owe Palma Sola Development Inc. $172,000 in back rent, the landlord said in a civil lawsuit filed in Manatee County Circuit Court last week.
Rural Health spokesman Tom Nolan said Monday the agency would not comment on the suit upon its attorney’s advice. Mudafort, an OB/GYN doctor, did not return a telephone message left with his practice.
According to the suit, Mudafort and Rural Health broke the lease by not making any monthly payments since September 2008. The $4,205 monthly payment included office space at 6050 State Road 70 E., sign rental and common-area maintenance.
Mudafort and Rural Health since have vacated the premises, said David N. Finkelstein, a Sarasota attorney for Palma Sola Development.
The suit is the latest chapter in a contentious landlord-tenant relationship that began in February 2002, when Mudafort signed the five-year lease with a five-year renewal option.
Seven months later, Rural Health became Mudafort’s employer and assumed the lease -- which the landlord later unsuccessfully challenged, according to the suit.
Mudafort remained contractually obligated to honor the lease terms despite the change, the suit said.
Palma Sola Development’s suit also contends Rural Health tried to get out of the lease two years after the deadline to do so had passed.
Finkelstein said the landlord waited so long to sue because of protracted but unsuccessful negotiations and difficulty finding a lawyer with no Rural Health ties to take the case.
“If they can pay their CEO $437,000 a year, they can pay their landlord,” he said of Rural Health.
Finkelstein was referring to Walter L. “Mickey” Presha Sr.’s fiscal 2007 salary of $437,208, as reported on the agency’s tax form that year.
Although Presha’s salary dropped to $433,463 the following year, the latest for which figures were available, it still was by far the highest among similar community health agencies in Florida, a Bradenton Herald investigation previously found.
The newspaper also discovered numerous con- flicts of interest within the agency, such as contracts awarded to companies owned by board members, corporate officers and family members.
Rural Health expanded its board, hired a procurement director, canceled some contracts and took other reform measures in response to the Herald’s findings.
However, the agency continues to refuse to open its board meetings to the public, saying it is a private organization despite the state and federal governments providing most of its funding.