Jan 17, 2013 (Sun Sentinel - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
FORT LAUDERDALE -- -- RoboVault's founder and his attorney were found in contempt of court Thursday morning after failing to show up for a bankruptcy hearing.
While RoboVault developer Marvin Chaney and his attorney Lawrence Wrenn didn't show up to a bankruptcy court hearing involving the ultra-secure facility, a government protester did and proceeded to get into a bizarre shouting match with U.S. Bankruptcy Judge John K. Olson. The judge had protester James Thomas McBride taken into federal custody to face a criminal contempt charge.
"This is a most unusual case," remarked Olson after a shouting McBride was hustled out of the courtroom with his hands cuffed behind his back.
Chaney put RoboVault, a monolithic building off Interstate 595 near Port Everglades, into bankruptcy in September as it faced foreclosure. Designed to withstand Category 5 hurricane winds, the $22 million storage facility has such security features as fingerprint scanners, motion sensors and photoelectric beams.
The bankruptcy trustee now in control of the facility has alleged Chaney let the business flounder after he became involved with a group of people who believe century-old bonds issued by China, Mexico and Germany are now worth millions-- if not billions -- of dollars. RoboVault became a depository for about 30,000 sovereign bonds with the facility set to receive $500 for every bond sold, Chaney has testified.
James Fierberg, one of trustee Barry Mukamal's attorneys, has argued the bonds have little to no value.
Mukamal, who took over the facility in November, has accused Chaney and Wrenn of intentionally creating disruptions at RoboVault and failing to turn over key documents. Chaney called Fort Lauderdale police twice last month, claiming the trustee was committing crimes. In addition, the trustee accused the men of getting McBride, who calls himself the "Postmaster General of North America," involved in the court proceedings.
McBride, who claims to derive his authority from the Vatican, sent letters to the judge and trustee demanding the bankruptcy case be dropped. He has previously been profiled in media accounts as a "sovereign separatist," someone who believes he is not subject to state and federal laws.
At a Jan. 8 hearing, Olson ordered Chaney and Wrenn to cooperate with the trustee and provide contracts and e-mails involving people storing their sovereign bonds at RoboVault. In addition, Wrenn was ordered to immediately pay back $3,000 he received from RoboVault after the facility had declared bankruptcy.
The judge warned Chaney and Wrenn at that hearing that if they didn't comply with his order, they could be taken into custody for civil contempt.
Three minutes before Thursday's hearing, an affidavit from Wrenn was delivered to Olson. The lawyer wrote that he wasn't in the country and is no longer representing Chaney.
After waiting for Chaney and Wrenn for about 10 minutes, the judge began the proceedings without them. About 10 people sat in the audience watching the proceedings, mostly bondholders and their friends.
Fierberg told Olson that Chaney and Wrenn had failed to comply with the judge's order from the Jan. 8 hearing. The judge inquired for a second time if anyone in the courtroom audience was representing Chaney and Wrenn. After no one replied, the judge -- almost as an afterthought -- asked if there was anyone there representing the pope.
That's when a tall, bearded man in the front row stood up and identified himself as McBride. The judge asked McBride to come before the bench. McBride refused.
"We'll stay in my jurisdiction," McBride said.
McBride said he was in court "to witness the war crimes" taking place, calling the trustee and his attorneys "pirates." Olson repeatedly ordered McBride step forward, but McBride refused to budge and put on a baseball cap. The increasingly irate judge told McBride that he wasn't going to leave until he was told he could leave.
"I do not consent to your jurisdiction," McBride yelled. "I have superior jurisdiction."
Olson ordered him taken into custody for criminal contempt. A deputy U.S. marshal cuffed McBride, who repeatedly yelled, "I am here in peace!"
Shortly after McBride's outburst, the judge found Chaney and Wrenn in civil contempt for failing to appear and not complying with his order from the Jan. 8 hearing. Olson indicated he would have the two men taken into custody until they comply with his order.
Attempts by the Sun Sentinel to reach Wrenn and Chaney after the court hearing were unsuccessful.
Chaney, 61, has spent more than 25 years in the self-storage business in South Florida, building the area's first high-rise storage facility in Oakland Park in 1986. He's served on the boards of Henderson Mental Health Center and the Museum of Art Fort Lauderdale.
He spent four years developing and building RoboVault, a one-of-a-kind facility designed to house luxury cars, expensive art, precious metals and fine wines. RoboVault opened in June 2009.
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