A group of St. Pete Beach retirees are battling it out in court over access to a local American Legion Post.
Michael Finnerty, age 70, and his 73-year-old wife Terri are suing Tom de Yampert for defamation.
They allege his accusations that the couple had a hand in missing funds led to their ouster from American Legion Post 305 in St. Pete Beach, and to two “humiliating” news articles and a Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office investigation in which no charges have been filed.
Mr. Finnerty is a former St. Pete Beach Mayor. His wife is a St. Pete Beach Commissioner.
The two say in their lawsuit against de Yampert that Mr. Finnerty was a successful commander of the American Legion Post, having fired thieving staff members, restored the dance floor, eliminated the building’s rat infestation and promoted a “more sanitary environment” at the post. (Terri Finnerty was the Post’s lounge manager.)
The couple’s attorney, Chris Sierra, claims de Yampert ignored the American Legion’s process for disciplining and removing officers and members and acted as “a rogue agent” of the Legion. He also claims the process by which the couple was removed from the club violated state laws on removing officers of a non-profit organization.
“This was simply a power struggle,” Sierra said. “De Yampert didn’t like what was happening and he wanted to be in charge.”
Sierra said the couple has incurred a five-figure legal bill fighting to be reinstated and have their names cleared in the investigation.
The American Legion Post 305 is also named in the lawsuit. The organization has been served with the suit, but Sierra said de Yampert has “made himself unavailable” and has not yet received the lawsuit.
“But we know how to find him. We know he has to be at the post and we know what car he drives. And if we still can’t reach him, we can serve him through publication,” Sierra said.
In a somewhat obscure plot twist, de Yampert has his own financial issue of record.
The 69-year-old St. Pete Beach resident formerly served as the housing rehabilitation and finance manager for the City of St. Petersburg, but was was caught up in a 2010 investigation. It alleged he had been awarding city contracts to contractors who worked on his rental properties. The investigation is still pending.
The American Legion is a club for U.S. war veterans and is typically well-attended by older club members. The posts host a variety of social gatherings and are open for members to attend as a hangout.