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Collier County commissioner’s ties to real estate deal questioned

A relatively small piece of land is at the center of a big vote in Collier County.

It’s a real estate deal tied back to a county commissioner, but he told WINK News he won’t abstain from the vote.

In the early 2000s, Bill McDaniel and a partner owned the land and used it for an excavating business. The deep hole they dug is now filled with water and formed a small lake. They took out $20 million in loans to help run the business. A short time later, the Great Recession hit and they defaulted on the loans.

Fast forward to today: McDaniel is a Collier County commissioner. His land and the rights to collect millions of dollars in loan debt were bought for pennies on the dollar.

A Collier County man paid $900,000 for it, but he decided to forgive McDaniel of all that debt and sold the property to an East Coast developer, who wants to use McDaniel’s old land and connecting property to build 4,000 homes. That plan must be approved by McDaniel and his fellow commissioners.

McDaniel said he doesn’t think his vote is a conflict of interest. Others disagree.

“This is a very clear conflict of interest,” said Michael Ramsey, one of McDaniel’s District 5 constituents.

Ramsey is also president of the Golden Gate Estates Area Civic Association. He questions if McDaniel should be voting on the proposed housing addition known as the Immokalee Road Rural Village.

“That needs to be explored and looked at because that was a large amount of money that took him out of debt, and does that cause a sway in your voting perception and/or does it cause you to ignore the residents of Golden Gate Estates,” Ramsey questioned.

Court records show McDaniel and his partner defaulted on two loans that grew to more than $42 million with principal interest and penalty, including one for $23.3 million that included McDaniel’s Collier County land as collateral.

A third party, Gregory Jarrett, bought the debt for $900,000 and then decided to forgive McDaniel of all debt, as he was able to sell McDaniel’s land to an East Coast developer for $1.5 million.

Jarrett declined our request for an interview.

As for McDaniel, he did not want to talk on camera but did agree to sit down with WINK News and a reporter from our media partner Gulfshore Business Magazine. During our hour-long conversation, McDaniel acknowledged his role in trying to get rid of his debt but said there was no quid pro quo. He said he will not abstain from voting on the housing development issue, saying he has an obligation to participate, and he said multiple times he has done nothing wrong and hasn’t broken any rules or laws.

Ramsey is not so sure.

“Can you be legal and still have a stench? That’s what we need to find out.”

McDaniel has already voted once to start the approval process for Immokalee Road Rural Village. That project could see a final vote in the fall.

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