Suddenly, it seems, the sleepy fishing village of Mayport is getting a lot of attention.
First came the completion of the 8.5 mile, $122 million Wonderwood Connector, from Mayport to Arlington.
Now, there is activity all around: The upgrade of the naval base, major development in Mayport village, the JPA cruise terminal and the ongoing operation of the Mayport Ferry.
And in the center of it all, apparently, is John Meserve.
By all accounts, including some of those now prosecuting Meserve for alleged crimes, Meserve is “a nice guy.” He is a retired Navy officer, CEO of Fleet Landing retirement home, former mayor of Atlantic Beach and a Jacksonville city councilman.
But State Attorney Angela Corey says Meserve was involved in a large real estate transaction in Mayport while serving in public office in 2005-2007, and that he failed to disclose the $105,000 he made in connection with the deal, as required by state law. The law also requires persons selling real estate that belongs to other people to have a state license.
Meserve specifically was charged with operating as a real estate agent without a license, a felony, while he was serving in a leadership role on a public advisory board focused on revitalizing the Mayport Waterfront. He did not disclose his private business relationship to the group, nor file timely financial disclosure forms with the state reporting his private interest in the matter, Corey’s office said.
The charge followed an investigation by the state Department of Business and Professional Regulation.
Meserve, who insists he has done nothing wrong, was elected to the Jacksonville City Council last September after a campaign during which the allegations were aired, winning by a 2-to-1 margin.
Meserve was founder of a group called Mayport Waterfront Partnership in 1997. It was designed to create economic development in the area and grew into a multi-government agency, business and community task force. He has said he resigned from the partnership after becoming an unpaid agent for Vestcor. Later, he ruefully said “agent” was a bad choice of words.
Vestcor has bought about $10 million worth of land in the Mayport area, initially intending to build high-end condominiums, according to the Jacksonville Business Journal.
In the course of a lawsuit by a civic association against the Jacksonville Port Authority, attorney Warren Anderson took a deposition from Meserve, in which this question and answer took place:
“Q. So…you weren’t receiving money from Vestcor directly or indirectly for any of their developmental interest(s) in the Mayport village?
“A. No, I … no, no.”
Later in the deposition, after being shown a check, Meserve said, “I wasn’t working for Vestcor.” He said he was helping Don Wolfson who was a Realtor representing Vestcor.
In the memo section of the checks written to Meserve from Wolfson is written “consulting fee.” Meserve supporters say Meserve certainly was in a position to advise a Realtor on how to work with local public officials and what the buying and selling of land in Mayport might entail in terms of personalities, value and potential uses.
Because there is no doubt Wolfson paid Meserve for something, the issue may boil down to defining the line between consulting and selling or assisting in selling, if the case goes to trial.
It appears that Meserve also might be able to contest the case based on the three-year statute of limitations, but Corey’s office said they believe they can win that argument by proving Meserve was involved within that timeframe.
Meserve will have his first hearing Feb. 1 before Judge Mark Mahon, Corey’s office said.