- The Washington Times - Monday, August 14, 2000

VIRGINIA BEACH Self-proclaimed "land salvager" Edwin B. Lindsley says he owns some prime real estate in this city of tourist shops and beachfront boutiques a six-mile stretch of the beach itself. And, in 1995, he managed to convince a judge of that.

Mr. Lindsley, 76, has claimed for more than 20 years that he owns about 40 blocks of the beach.

In 1998, the city was forced to pay attention to Mr. Lindsley's claims when he sued the federal government for $3.74 million because the Army Corps of Engineers built a new boardwalk and hurricane protection wall on a section of what he calls "his beach." His suit says the federal government never got his permission to come onto his beach, let alone do the work.

City officials concede the section worked on between Second and Fifth streets was deeded to Mr. Lindsley in 1995. But the city's attorney contends the judge who awarded him the four-block section was "tricked," and Virginia Beach is counter-suing Mr. Lindsley for $500,000 in damages, accusing him of committing a "fraud upon the court."

"He was trying to put the city of Virginia Beach into the position that if they want to go forward with the hurricane protection program they would have to settle with [him]," said Donald H. Clark, the lawyer representing the city.

Last month, a four-day trial was held in Norfolk Circuit Court to determine whether Mr. Lindsley's claim to the four-block stretch of beach is a "fraud." The ruling won't come until late September, holding up Mr. Lindsley's lawsuit against the federal government. The lawsuit filed under two of his corporations' names, Fala Corp. and Kala Corp. vs. the United States of America is now sitting before the Court of Federal Claims in Washington, D.C.

Mr. Lindsley declined to be interviewed for this story, but his attorney, Harold Barnes, said his client just wants a little respect from the city, recognizing his right of ownership to the oceanfront property, which is estimated to be worth around $30 million.

That doesn't mean Mr. Lindsley isn't looking to make a profit, Mr. Barnes said. After all, the oceanfront land speculator is a businessman. Though he dropped out of law school just a few months before graduating and never appeared to have held a 9 to 5 job, those close to him believe he is worth tens of millions of dollars.

"Mr. Lindsley is to land what the people who were going down to the Titanic were to ships," said Mr. Barnes. "He's a salvager of land."

Long known for his creative real estate tactics using one of many sole-shareholder corporations, Mr. Lindsley typically bought small tracts of land from developers after they had sold all their lots.

Sometimes he would spend hours in the city courthouse, looking for what are known as "title defects," or anything that would make the title of a property void. His research has paid off but brought some trouble with it.

Mr. Lindsley has had frequent run-ins with the city because he owned just enough land, sometimes less than a full square foot, that could jeopardize road projects, placement of sewer lines or the sale of a marina.

Mr. Barnes said a 30-year-old real estate deal that resulted from Mr. Lindsley's research goes to the heart of the legal battle.

Mr. Lindsley acquired the six-mile stretch of the oceanfront by combing through dusty city records dating back to the early 1900s, finding defunct companies and titles that were no longer valid, and resurrecting the companies, his lawyer said.

Mr. Lindsley acquired the four-block area by sifting through the records of the now defunct Virginia Holding Company. Seeing the land hadn't been claimed, his lawyer the late George H. Heilig Jr. went to Norfolk Circuit Court Judge Charles E. Poston in 1995 and had the "cloud" lifted off of what he says was beach he already owned.

The city claims that Mr. Lindsley's argument to get the four-block section of beach was fraudulent, based on a title that he "fabricated," Mr. Clark said. Because of that, Judge Poston's decision should be vacated, meaning that Mr. Lindsley would no longer have title to the land, he said.

"The city thinks Mr. Lindsley committed a fraud upon the Circuit Court of Norfolk to get a deed, which became his sole source of ownership in the federal case," Mr. Clark said.

Mr. Clark said the city probably wouldn't care as much about what they see as a "ludicrous" assertion, except for that the federal government requires the city to show that it owns the beach for it to do any restoration work on it.

The city has not been able to produce a title, according to Mr. Barnes.

Beyond the ownership of the beach itself, Virginia Beach has a big stake in the lawsuit's outcome. In order to allow the hurricane protection project to go forward, the city had to indemnify the federal government, making the city legally responsible for paying Mr. Lindsley the $3.74 million if he wins.

Regardless of the lawsuits' outcomes, though, beachcombers and sunbathers will have access, Mr. Barnes said.

"There won't be any barricades or anything like that," he said.

Still, Mr. Lindsley who has tussled with the city over chunks of real estate so many times before seems ready to go 15 rounds over this piece of land.

"He understood that he was not going to be able to cash in on his finding without a significant fight," his lawyer said.

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