For well over a decade, Dr. Jeffrey G. Meilman, a prominent Amherst plastic surgeon, considered Davis R. Tiburzi, a prominent Amherst developer, one of his closest and most trusted friends.
They were golf buddies who often spent long hours talking, according to Meilman. So close was the friendship, according to Meilman, that he lent Tiburzi $52,500 when Tiburzi asked him for financial help in January 2003.
Tiburzi never paid that loan back, Meilman said. But the surgeon said he kept lending money to Tiburzi and, occasionally, to other members of Tiburzi’s family – more than $1 million over the next decade.
Meilman said he either lent money to Tiburzi or his relatives, or paid off large bills that were owed by Tiburzi on at least 24 occasions.
Meilman said Tiburzi always promised to pay him back but never did, not even a single dollar.
Last week, their friendship reached a breaking point as Meilman filed a $1.2 million lawsuit accusing Tiburzi of fraud and deceptive conduct. Tiburzi denies any wrongdoing.
“Davis, I believed, was one of my closest friends. I did trust him as a close friend,” Meilman, 70, told The Buffalo News on Monday. “I valued his friendship. I guess he didn’t value mine as much.”
“Dr. Meilman and I have been friends for a long time,” Tiburzi, 62, told The News. “These allegations are not true, but at this point, I’m not going to get into the details ... if I do, it will be forthcoming from my attorney.”
Tiburzi declined to identify his attorney; The News contacted three local attorneys who have represented him in past legal matters, but none agreed to comment on the lawsuit.
According to Meilman’s attorney, Thomas H. Burton, Meilman now believes that Tiburzi was only taking advantage of their friendship and that Tiburzi never had any intention of paying him back.
“This series of transactions went way beyond being bad business deals,” Burton said in an interview. “Collectively, this was a betrayal of trust.”
In court papers, Burton accused Tiburzi of spending lots of money – buying a home in Clarence for $725,000 and a Porsche automobile worth $100,000 – even as he continued to ask Meilman for more and more loans, and failed to pay off earlier loans.
“Within the last several months, and as recently as mid-January 2014, Davis Tiburzi reaffirmed and acknowledged the above loan obligations to Dr. Meilman, but then, incredibly, told Dr. Meilman he could not ever pay these amounts back,” Burton stated in court papers. “In words or substance, Davis Tiburzi admitted that he had wrongfully taken advantage of their friendship, but that circumstances justified this because Dr. Meilman had more money than Tiburzi. To add insult to injury, Tiburzi admitted he had proceeded as he did with these loans because Dr. Meilman was in ‘a much better position to absorb these losses’ than was Tiburzi.”
Anytime Meilman would ask about repayment, Tiburzi would respond with “multiple excuses or rationales” and tell him he would pay the money back eventually, Burton said in court papers.
If the allegations are true, why would Meilman – over more than a decade – keep lending money to a friend who had failed to repay him?
“Dr. Meilman is a great surgeon. He was a surgeon for the U.S. Air Force during the Vietnam War, putting our wounded servicemen back together and reaching the rank of major. He has helped people who were burned or disfigured all over the world,” Burton said. “But he’s much better at medicine than he is at being a banker.”
Meilman told The News he was only trying to help a friend after Tiburzi repeatedly told him he really needed help to keep some of his business ventures afloat.
“I would see Davis almost every day ... he wasn’t hiding from me,” Meilman said. “I always felt that he would stand by his commitments to me.”
Among the other allegations contained in the 21-page lawsuit:
• Meilman has loaned a total of $1,219,547.12 to Tiburzi, two members of Tiburzi’s family and Boardwalk Boutiques, LLC, a business owned by Tiburzi. “Not one dollar” has been repaid.
• Some loans were for a few thousand dollars, and on some occasions, Meilman wrote checks to Tiburzi for more than $100,000. Alleged copies of some of the checks and promissory notes are included as court exhibits.
• Tiburzi currently drives “a Porsche sports car, the value of which he has claimed to others is in excess of $100,000.” Meilman also believes Tiburzi’s family operates “several other vehicles,” including “one or more Range Rovers.”
• Despite telling Meilman he could not afford to repay the hundreds of thousands of dollars he already owed him, Tiburzi and his wife, Michelle, in 2005 bought a home on Keller Road in Clarence for $725,000. They have since made extensive renovations to the home and purchased a neighboring property.
• In 2011, Meilman traveled to Louisiana with Tiburzi to help Tiburzi deal with bankers who were threatening to foreclose on an Amherst retail business property owned by Tiburzi.
Meilman paid $2,300 for airplane tickets for him and Tiburzi. After they returned to Buffalo, Meilman wired $135,000 to a Louisiana law firm, which enabled Tiburzi to stave off the foreclosure.
• Within the last two months, the Tiburzis put up hundreds of thousands of equity in their Clarence home to obtain a second mortgage to prevent a bank from foreclosing on one of their business properties.
“This happened as Tiburzi was telling Meilman he was making every effort to get money together to repay the loans,” Burton said in an interview. “So now, the bank is a creditor with priority over Dr. Meilman.”
Both Meilman and Tiburzi have made many local news reports, going back to at least the 1980s.
Tiburzi has developed a number of projects in Amherst, both business properties and condominium projects. In the late 1980s and into the 1990s, he was one of the partners in a business group that purchased the legendary Crystal Beach amusement park in Ontario, dismantled it and built a development of upscale beachfront homes.
In June 1990, Tiburzi’s company, then called DRT Development Co., unveiled a master design to build more than 160 homes on or near the beach, in addition to swimming pools, tennis courts and a marina on the Crystal Beach property.
“Davis has built a lot of homes in Amherst and a lot at Crystal Beach,” said Buffalo businessman Carl P. Paladino, who called Tiburzi a respected developer and said he has known him for about 20 years.
Meilman is widely known in the medical community for his charitable activities throughout the world. Working through his Amherst-based “Hope For Tomorrow” foundation, he has led doctors on missions to underdeveloped countries all over the world. Meilman and other doctors donated their time to provide plastic surgeries to people who could not afford to pay.
The foundation has also funded orthopedic, vascular and reconstructive facial surgeries for poor people, mostly children, who traveled to Western New York from Afghanistan, China, Jamaica, Poland, Iran and other countries.
“I know that Tiburzi has been a big supporter of Meilman’s charity, and I have seen them at charity events together,” Paladino said on Monday. “They seemed like nice people and good friends together ... I am very surprised to hear about this lawsuit.”
Paladino added that he is not in a position to know details of any loans or business dealings between Meilman and Tiburzi.
Tiburzi has been active with the Hope For Tomorrow Foundation, and in fact, has served in recent years as a member of the foundation’s board of directors, Burton said. “But that is ending. A letter was sent to Mr. Tiburzi on Saturday notifying him he is no longer on the board,” the attorney said.
“One thing I want people to know is that these loans had no effect on the foundation in any way,” Burton said. “The foundation is in good shape.”