BRUNSWICK COUNTY, NC (WWAY) — The Coastal Companies in Brunswick County will tell you it is the area’s biggest employer, but some customers paint a different picture. Upset property owners say developer Mark Saunders stole their money and ran.
Records show Saunders owes $3.5 million in taxes dating back to 2008.
“Coastal Communities created a dream, and they also shattered that dream,” Sunset Beach Mayor Richard Cerrato said.
Property owner Norman Fitzgerald agrees.
“The sales people said this was going to be his crown jewel – the Jaguar’s Lair Property – and that was going to be his legacy to the community,” Fitzgerald said.
Property owners like Fitzgerald were expecting lush greens, blue water and lavish luxury similar to Ocean Ridge Plantation, which was also developed by Saunders and the Coastal Companies. Instead, they have loose wires, run down buildings, empty lots and roads to nowhere.
To understand their pain, you need to know where it all began.
Property owners paid between $300,000 and $500,000 per lot six years ago. Then they lost even more.
“For many people that was there lifetime savings, and that has impacted their quality of life,” Cerrato said.
We received email after email. Complaints from property owners. They’re paying home owners association fees for unfinished amenities in Jaguar’s Lair. They can use all of the amenities at Ocean Ridge, but they want their own.
However , there is more than one side to a story, and in this case, there’s one house standing in Jaguar’s Lair. It belongs to Larry Sweeney.
“We had a very good experience with Saunders on buying the house, and I ultimately contracted with his company to build the house after looking at two or three different builders,” Sweeney said.
He can’t complain.
“When water was needed, it was here. When electric was needed, it was here. When sewer was needed, it was here,” Sweeney said.
In a statement, The Coastal Companies claims 114 home sites at Jaguar’s Lair are buildable, including Fitzgerald’s property. Documentation backs that claim up, but banks do not.
Property owners asked for construction loans, but their banks turned them away because of the missing infrastructure. And still, the burning question remains.
“Where’s the money?” Fitzgerald said. “I think he owes Brunswick County a flow of funds statement starting back in 2006 up to today’s date, as to here’s the money I brought in, and here’s where it went.”
“Some have called it a Ponzi scheme at (town) council meetings,” Cerrato said.
The Coastal Companies laughs at the claim. It points to a plaque representing good business, saying the money is invested in the community’s development.
Because of the money tied up in his Jaguar’s Lair property, Fitzgerald had to sell the home where he was living and move to Florida, where property and taxes are cheaper.
A top employee from the Coastal Companies, Deborah Boodro, did provide information for this story, but she refused to go on camera.
As for Saunders, we could not find a working personal number for him, and voicemails to his businesses went unreturned.