The current chairman of the Bay County Tourism Development Council (TDC) Andrew Phillips has filed a countersuit to fight back against claims he embezzled and misappropriated more than $400,000 while working for Counts-Oakes Resort Properties Inc.

PANAMA CITY — The chairman of the Bay County Tourism Development Council (TDC) has filed a countersuit to fight back against claims he embezzled and misappropriated more than $400,000 while working for a property management company, according to court records.

TDC Chairman Andrew Phillips filed a defamation lawsuit Sept. 13 in the 14th Judicial Circuit Court against owners of Counts-Oakes Resort Properties Inc., Steven Counts and Jason Oakes. Phillips alleges that his former business partners at the property management company repeatedly published defamatory statements that Phillips had embezzled and misappropriated funds while working for the company. The claims eventually led to an underlying lawsuit, which continues through the court.

However, Phillips has now filed a countersuit that the embezzlement claims are a reckless disregard for the truth and have caused him damage, court records stated.

Phillips has claimed damages of at least $15,000, which is the minimum claim in circuit court, and demanded a jury trial. A jury could award more or less or side with Counts-Oakes.

According to the defamation lawsuit, Counts and Oakes repeatedly told prominent businessmen and women in the Bay County community that Phillips had embezzled and misappropriated funds. They allegedly also told third parties that Phillips would be arrested for criminal activity. Because of those allegations and the ensuing lawsuit, Phillips claims that he has been unable to find work in his long-time career field.

“As a result of the defamatory statements, Mr. Phillips has been unsuccessful in his efforts to obtain employment,” the lawsuit states. “Despite having decades of experience, Mr. Phillips has been denied employment for 10 positions within the rental management business industry because of the damage caused to his professional reputation by the defamatory statements.”

Phillips has alleged two counts of defamation, a count of aiding and abetting and a count of civil conspiracy against his former business partners. A follow-up trial date has not been scheduled.

The countersuit stems from a lawsuit filed in July on the part of Counts-Oakes. They claimed that Phillips since becoming treasurer and a director of the business in 2014 and given “unbridled access” to the corporation’s bank accounts, defrauded Counts-Oakes of about $412,000, according to Counts-Oakes lawsuit.

According to that lawsuit, the missing funds came to light in June while Counts-Oakes was selling its assets to another company. Counts-Oakes received proceeds from the sale and conducted an audit before disbursing funds to their shareholders in order to determine whether any loans remained outstanding, the lawsuit states.

“The accountant engaged by (Counts-Oakes) discovered certain fraudulent, unauthorized reimbursements, unauthorized family health insurance benefits and other conduct of Phillips giving rise to the causes of the action alleged herein,” the lawsuit states.

In some examples, Phillips is accused of “fraudulent reimbursements” for sporting goods, fuel for a personal vehicle, computers, first-class airline tickets, meals and entertainment, and thousands of dollars in cash reimbursements with “no supporting documentation whatsoever,” the lawsuit states.

In others instances, Counts-Oakes has accused Phillips of receiving kickbacks from booking websites and booking service providers by instructing rental companies to pay a portion of the funds due to Counts-Oakes directly to Phillips.

Phillips also allegedly had been having Counts-Oakes pay the entire health insurance premiums for several members of his family that, from 2014 to 2018, came out to almost $140,000, the lawsuit alleges.

However, Phillips painted a different picture in his counterclaim. He said that for about 10 years he built the brand and identity of the company only to have Counts and Oakes unilaterally decide to sell off its assets to LSICO, LLC for $1.5 million without holding a board meeting. Counts and Oakes then allegedly distributed the funds among shareholders, excluding Phillips, and still filed a lawsuit against him for theft, the lawsuit states.