RLR Investments LLC has completed the terms of a deferred prosecution agreement. The company had been accused of destroying four gopher tortoise burrows on the center site.
Charges against RLR Investments LLC, the developer of the World Equestrian Center in Ocala, for the destruction of gopher tortoise burrows, have been dropped.
According to court records, the State Attorney's Office dropped the four misdemeanor counts once the company completed the terms of a deferred prosecution agreement.
That agreement called for RLR to donate $500 to the Wildlife Alert Fund , which is part of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and another $500 to the Fish and Wildlife Foundation of Florida, a nonprofit that works with the commission and other partners.
Prosecutors said they have not been alerted to any other time the company has destroyed gopher tortoise burrows.
Local attorney Paul Guilfoil, who dealt with the State Attorney's Office on behalf of RLR, declined comment. Donald R. DeLuca, the company’s general counsel, could not be reached for comment.
On June 21, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Officer Joseph J. Simpson received a call from biologist Samantha Cobble to come to 2550 NW 70th Ave., where land is being cleared for the WEC, according to a FWC report. Cobble believed it was being developed before RLR got the permit to relocate the gopher tortoises.
Simpson met Cobble at the project site and met with Clark Modica, director of land management for Modica and Associates, the Clermont-based company hired to conduct an environmental survey on the property in May.
RLR was in the process of getting a permit to remove four tortoises before clearing land.
On June 10, RLR applied for a relocation permit, listing the Appalachicola National Forest Research and Restoration Site as a new home for the reptiles, which are protected under Florida law. Their burrows are a haven for numerous native species.
The land was cleared prior to the permit approval, according to an incident summary report prepared by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Three burrows were destroyed, including two active ones, the report says. A fourth burrow was disturbed by clearing that caused water to drain into it. The burrow had been active, but as of June 21, when an FWC officer investigated case, it was empty. A fifth burrow was not disturbed.
Authorities used a map and GPS to find the burrow locations and documented the destruction.
On July 15, Simpson met with DeLuca and served notice to appear on behalf of the company. Prosecutors filed four second-degree misdemeanor charges against RLR on Aug. 15.
RLR Investments is part of Ohio trucking magnate Larry Roberts’ diverse roster of companies, which includes the Golden Ocala Golf & Equestrian Club, adjacent to the World Equestrian Center.
The property involved is part of the WEC development, which is scheduled to open in early 2021. It will feature a 140,000-square-foot outdoor stadium arena. There will also be a hotel and four climate-controlled indoor arenas that together will cover 13 acres.
The WEC is the centerpiece of an upscale residential community planned for nearly 4,000 acres west of County Road 225A, between U.S. 27 and West State Road 40. Roberts’ team has planned 2,400 homes, including estate homes and condominiums.
There are plans for retail and commercial space, as well as room for 200 recreational vehicle spaces.
Contact Austin L. Miller at 867-4118, email@example.com or @almillerosb