WINTER HAVEN — Florida’s attorney general is seeking to “save the Ritz Theatre," according to a release.

The release sent Tuesday afternoon from the office of Attorney General Pam Bondi reads that the office is looking for a “receiver to take possession and preserve all assets of the Ritz Theatre." That appointment would be made by the courts.

“Today, our office is filing a motion seeking expedited appointment of a receiver and the issuance of a temporary injunction to preserve the assets of The Ritz Theatre 100, Inc. and the Ritz Theatre,” Kylie Mason, Bondi’s press secretary, said in an email. “A quick hearing on the motion will be sought, following which discovery (including requests for production of documents, depositions of key witnesses, and more) will be undertaken.”

The Attorney General’s Office alleges that the nonprofit-owned building is underutilized, strapped for cash and in danger of being closed. The office had been reviewing the matter for several months, Mason said. The building on West Central Avenue was built in 1920 and has gone by the name "Ritz Theatre" since 1932.

According to the Attorney General’s Office, the Ritz Theatre is in financial peril despite contributions through state and city grants for operating costs and needed renovations. According to data provided by the city of Winter Haven, the Ritz Theatre was given $250,500 by the city from 2009 through 2011.

Bondi’s office claims that efforts by community members to obtain seats on the Ritz Theatre board of directors and to help redress the financial problems were rejected by board members. According to the complaint, those community members include Kerry Wilson and James Cooper of the developer Six/Ten.

The two men offered the theater a contribution of $65,000 to be placed on the board, but that was perceived by the board as an attempt at a hostile takeover.

Suspicions about the operation grew early last year after a two-page contract and lien agreement filed by former Ritz Board President Kathleen Buldini stated that Stella Heath, executive director of the Ritz Theater, was owed $250,000 for work she did between 2006, when she was named executive director, and 2014. During a phone conversation Tuesday, Heath said she was unaware of the Attorney General’s Office’s action.

The contract was dated June 8, 2015, but not received by the Polk County Clerk of Courts until late January 2017 — more than a year and a half later. Shortly after, the State Attorney’s Office began looking into the matter but decided in July that it would not press charges against Heath on allegations that she filed a fraudulent lien.

The complaint from the Attorney General’s Office alleges that the Ritz Theatre has not kept accurate records since at least the start of 2015. There aren’t receipts for money owed to Heath or budgets authorized by the board of directors, per the complaint. It is also alleged that the Ritz missed grant and sponsorship opportunities by failing to provide necessary documentation.

"The Friends of the Ritz organization is gratified that attorney general Pam Bondi, having given careful consideration to the merits, has elected to request that control of the Ritz be given over to a receiver in order to restore it to the mission for which it was established and intended," Friends of the Ritz member Tom Oldt said in an emailed statement. "Citizens of Winter Haven will be relieved to know that their concerns, as addressed in a Ledger advertisement one year ago and signed by nearly 250 residents, have been taken seriously. We urge the court to act accordingly."

Mike Ferguson can be reached at or 863-401-6981. Follow Mike on Twitter@ MikeWFerguson.