Posted 2/10/2014 12:00 am
Updated 6 months ago
In the spring of 2011, a contractor from Lone Wolf in west Oklahoma submitted the low bid on a modest — less than $500,000 — stormwater project in Kingfisher, a town about two hours away.
Late last month, almost three years after winning the bid, a jury awarded Pridex Construction LLC and its owner, Chris Poindexter, the balance of $2.4 million in actual and punitive damages against the city of Kingfisher, its mayor and the Florida company that wrote the performance bond on the project.
So what does all this have to do with Arkansas? Just this:
Steve Standridge, the former Mount Ida insurance agent who faces federal fraud charges in both the Eastern and Western Districts of Arkansas, brokered the sale of the bond. (That was more than a year after he had been stripped of his insurance license in Arkansas.)
Standridge was not a defendant in Poindexter’s civil case, and he has not responded to a message left on his cell phone. But Standridge’s name is sprinkled throughout the case — in the complaint, in the exhibits and in testimony presented to the jury.
The story is long and convoluted, as befits a case that results in such damages, but it boiled down to this: A bank owner named Jack Stuteville, who was the city director designated as mayor of Kingfisher, encouraged contractor Poindexter to call Standridge in order to secure a hurry-up performance bond on the project, which the city manager wanted started posthaste.
Standridge hooked Poindexter up with a Florida company called The Underwriters Group Inc., led by Larry G. Wright. Poindexter sent The Underwriters Group $19,000 for the premium on the bond and a $50,000 security deposit — only to lose the job, the $69,000 he sent the bonding company and the $24,000 he gave the city as a bid bond when it turned out that neither The Underwriters Group nor Wright was licensed to write bonds in Oklahoma.
Last May, Poindexter received default judgments against Wright and The Underwriters Group totaling more than $635,000. And on Jan. 30, after a four-day trial, a jury in Kingfisher County ordered Stuteville to pay $150,000 in actual damages and $350,000 in punitive damages and added almost $1.27 million in punitive damages to the default judgments against Wright and The Underwriters Group.
The relationship between Standridge and Stuteville — whose First Capital Bank of Kingfisher was shut down by the FDIC in June 2012 — is still something of a mystery. Back in April 2011, Standridge spoke to the city board of directors on Poindexter’s behalf. According to a report in the Kingfisher Times & Free Press, Standridge “identified himself as a retired insurance agent from Arkansas.”
That’s a generous description of Standridge’s exit from the insurance industry. His license was suspended in March 2010, and later voluntarily surrendered, after the Arkansas Insurance Department accused him of 72 counts of wrongdoing.
Some of those findings by the AID found their way into a 12-count indictment issued by a federal grand jury in Little Rock in August 2012. Standridge has pleaded not guilty and is scheduled for trial before U.S. District Judge Brian S. Miller in July.
On Oct. 30, a federal grand jury in Hot Springs indicted Standridge on 23 more counts. His trial in that case is currently scheduled to start April 3 in El Dorado before U.S. District Judge Susan O. Hickey