Former Kingfisher mayor ordered to pay for "reckless disregard"
The city of Kingfisher and the town's former mayor will have to pay up after a jury had its say in a trial filed by the owner of an Oklahoma construction company. Chris Poindexter is the owner of Pridex Construction and says the case has been a struggle for more than three years.
The case started when Poindexter bid on a project to help control flooding problems in the city of Kingfisher. "I had an engineer call me and he said he knew I was qualified and capable to do the job and asked me if I was aware of it and if I would look at submitting a bid on it," Poindexter said.
Poindexter's bid was the lowest bid and the city awarded him the contract. He had to write a check to the city a check for a bid bond and then the city said he needed a performance bond. A performance bond ensures contractors finish the work; or the city is not out money if the work is not satisfactorily completed and needs to be redone.
Poindexter says he offered to put up a cash bond, $500,000 of his own money to meet the bonding requirements. "I can assure I would finish the project; I always have and that's why the engineer called me in the first place."
When the city denied his cash bond, Poindexter says then Mayor Jack Stuteville offered him help in the form of a phone number. Stuteville told jurors he gave Poindexter the number of Steve Standridge, who was not licensed to do insurance work in Oklahoma, but could connect him with someone to write the bond.
"Being the mayor of the city of Kingfisher I wanted to please the mayor and I wanted to do what he wanted me to do," Poindexter told Fox 25. However, jurors would learn that Standridge owed money to Stuteville. On the stand, Stuteville denied he received any money for introducing Poindexter to Standridge.
Ultimately, Standridge would introduce Poindexter to a man named Larry Wright, of the Underwriter's Group, out of Florida. Write offered to write Poindexter an insurance bond to meet the city's deadline. It turns out that bond was no good. Poindexter would learn Wright wasn't legally allowed to write bonds in Oklahoma after receiving a "cease-and-desist" order from the office of former Insurance Commissioner Kim Holland.
"The mayor of the city of Kingfisher was telling me he [Larry Wright] could help me and he [Wright] had a lot of business in the bonding business," Poindexter said.
Stuteville told jurors he did not benefit from Poindexter's problems and was not responsible for the city re-bidding the project which led to Poindexter losing thousands.
A jury disagreed. In its verdict, jurors unanimously decided Stuteville acted "intentionally and with malice" and "acted in reckless disregard to the rights of others." The jury said Stuteville had to pay $500,000 to Poindexter in actual and punitive damages.
This week Stuteville was written a check for more than $277,000 for properties he sold to the state as part of the Kingfisher Flood Buyout program. It's a program Fox 25 first investigated last year. We showed that at least one of the properties taxpayers were purchasing was an already abandoned office building.
The city of Kingfisher settled its part of the case prior the jury's deliberations. The city settled for an undisclosed amount after the judge refused to drop them from the case.
A statement from current city manager Dave Slezicky said, "The settlement was reached amicably between parties. The decision was simplified as the amount requested for settlement was the same amount of the bid bond check that the City still held from Pridex. The City had attempted to release the check after re bidding the project. Despite the judge's ruling that the City was not obligated to return the bid bond check, I felt that it was within the intent of the governing board, as they had approved such action nearly three years ago."
Poindexter says he wants to thank the jurors for their service and verdict. He says the judgment will help him regain the money he's lost while fighting the case in the last three years.
However the legal problems for the city of Kingfisher are not over yet. Poindexter's brother is former Fire Chief Randy Poindexter.
In court, jurors were told that when Stuteville was mayor he went to Randy Poindexter's house to discuss his friendship with Randy. In an audio recording of that conversation obtained by Fox 25 Jack Stuteville can be heard telling Randy Poindexter, "I could cause you so many problems."
The recording is inaudible for a moment following that statement, but in court Stuteville admitted to saying those words, but said he added he would never cause Poindexter problems.
A group called "Concerned Citizens of Kingfisher" successfully passed a recall petition to remove Stuteville from office. An election for a new mayor is set for February 11th, but voters will find that Stuteville's name is still on the ballot and he could regain the position he was removed from.
Stuteville's attorney said he had no comment about what happened in court or the verdict.