Originally created 03/03/03

Judge to rule on builders' offer



AIKEN - A federal judge will decide Tuesday whether hundreds of residents in Aiken's largest subdivision have been offered a fair settlement in a case charging millions of dollars in hidden kickbacks.

A class-action lawsuit filed by four couples in Woodside Plantation alleges that Woodside Development LLP and several builders associated with it charged a a hidden 7 percent fee on homes sold between 1994 and 2002.

More than 900 homes have been included in the uncertified class. If the allegations are true, the development company enriched itself by millions of dollars. Homes in the neighborhood range in price from $200,000 to more than $1 million.

Representatives of Woodside Development have denied the allegations. Attorneys have told company representatives not to discuss the case with the news media.

To settle the issue, however, the defendants are offering residents a handful of amenities already promised by the developer, including a health club, a garden area and parking for recreational vehicles.

In addition, some residents would be able to join The Reserve golf course at Woodside and its social club.

The settlement offer has infuriated many residents. More than 200 of them have chosen not to join the class-action suit, according to a clerk for U.S. District Judge Cameron McGowan Currie, who is presiding over the case.

"I was insulted," said Paul Hudak, a resident who wrote a letter to Judge Currie saying the settlement was worthless.

Those residents can take legal action on their own.

The lawsuit was filed in federal court because Woodside Development markets to home buyers throughout the country. The suit alleges that the developer violated the Interstate Land Sales Act, which requires developers to disclose developer fees.

The lawsuit originally included allegations of "constructive fraud." Fraud charges are difficult to prove and , if proved, would require the defendant to pay triple what was fraudulently taken, legal experts say.

Stan Jackson, an Aiken lawyer who represents the four couples who filed the suit, said the proposed settlement was the best offer made by the defendant to appease the most people.

"If they take (the offer) off the table, there's no holds barred," Mr. Jackson said. "We'll proceed vigorously with all claims."

Reach Josh Gelinas at (803) 279-6895 or josh.gelinas@augustachronicle.com.