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Austin developer cleared in 6-year-old fraud lawsuit

Austin real estate developer Peter Barlin has been cleared of any wrongdoing in a six-year-old federal fraud lawsuit.
A jury “completely exonerated” Barlin on Feb. 5 after a four-week trial in U.S. Western District Court in Austin presided over by Judge David Ezra, said Barlin’s lawyer, Dan Byrne.
The verdict showed that the claims of plaintiffs Steven Aubrey and Brian Vodicka — which included alleged connections to Russian organized crime and a real estate Ponzi scheme — were baseless, said Byrne, a senior partner at Fritz Byrne Head & Fitzpatrick PLLC in downtown Austin.
 “It was a huge relief to have this finally behind him, to have his name cleared once and for all,” Byrne said of Barlin.
A lawyer for Aubrey and Vodicka could not be reached for comment. Plaintiff attorneys Nicholas Reisch,David Scott, Thomas Watkins and Brian Weil Zimmerman were granted permission Feb. 23 to remove themselves from the case.
Barlin owns many buildings around town, especially in East Austin, and is responsible for the redevelopment of Penn Field and the Tillery Street Theater, among other projects. The Austin Business Journal most recently wrote about one of his properties when Zach Olschwanger turned a Springdale Road building into the Austin Bouldering Project.
There were two other defendants in the case: Sandra Gunn, who was cleared of all charges, and Greg Lahr, who was found partly negligent, said their attorney Anthony Icenogle. An order of final judgement listed a combined $1.57 million in judgements against Lahr.
Lahr is waiting to see how the post-trial period plays out, said Icenogle, a partner at Icenogle & Sullivan LLP. Barlin has filed a motion to throw out those claims and the judge has given Aubrey and Vodicka until March 1 to respond.
But Gunn “was completely vindicated” and felt “a mixture of relief that the case was resolved in her favor and anger that it took so many years and an unbelievable amount of money to resolve it," Icenogle said.
In the lawsuit, originally filed in 2010, Aubrey and Vodicka alleged Barlin and the other defendants orchestrated a real estate Ponzi scheme that resulted in them losing $1 million. They also said Barlin was allegedly linked to a Russian mobster.
Judge Ezra threw out the organized crime charges before the trial even began, Byrne said. The defense is trying to recoup some of the costs of defending those charges, which fall under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.
Otherwise, Byrne said, “we have a very limited avenue to try to get a very small portion of our fees back.”
Will Anderson coordinates digital coverage of business news.