Krishna Lawrence was 22 and making a living trimming trees in the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew when he met Seminole Tribal Council member David Cypress.
In the 15 years since, Lawrence, who is not a member of the tribe, has started more than a dozen companies, many catering to the Seminoles. He has done construction and remodeling for the tribe and installed security cameras, home theater systems, lighting and generators.
Lawrence's landscaping business, Five Points Corp., received $18.7 million from the tribe from January 2006 through this May. Three other Lawrence companies received $2 million between October 2006 and May, according to tribal records obtained by the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.
In April, the tribe traded property with a Lawrence company, giving him more than 500 acres next to its Big Cypress Reservation, valued at $1.7 million. In September, Lawrence sold off a little more than half of the property for just under $3 million, land records show.
He made a $1.3 million profit in five months and still owns about 200 acres.
Council member Max Osceola Jr. told the Sun-Sentinel he still thinks the trade was good for the tribe.
"If you buy a house, you want to flip it, is there anything wrong with that?" Osceola said. "That's called an entrepreneur."
Lawrence's landscaping business grew from eight to about 100 employees in the past three years, working on the Big Cypress Reservation where David Cypress has been the elected representative for almost two decades.
Lawrence and Cypress owned a gym together and were directors in two companies. Cypress has introduced and supported council resolutions benefiting Lawrence, records show.
Cypress declined a request for an interview.
In interviews with the Sun-Sentinel, Lawrence described Cypress as a "great friend."
Asked if he had benefited from his relationship with Cypress, Lawrence said, "Does a friend help a friend?"
Lawrence, 37, grew up in Miami's impoverished Liberty City and dropped out of Hollywood Hills High School in ninth grade. He now lives in a 6-bedroom, 5-bath house in Davie that was on the market in May for $3.2 million.
He has traveled for free on the tribe's Gulfstream IV jet with Cypress. Lawrence flew "approximately eight times, always at the invitation of David for either David's personal business, maybe a birthday celebration or something like that, or on tribal business when David was taking the Gulfstream somewhere… and asked Kris if he wanted to come along for the ride," said Lawrence's attorney, Joel Hirschhorn of Coral Gables.
Lawrence met Cypress on the tribe's Hollywood Reservation.
"He wanted work done out on the Big Cypress Reservation," Lawrence said. They "were having problems getting people to come out there to work, so I went out."
Today, Five Points trucks and crews are visible all over Big Cypress, planting and maintaining the meticulously kept grounds of tribal public buildings and some members' houses, including the compounds of Cypress, his brother Mitchell Cypress, who is Tribal Chairman, and their relatives.
Invoices obtained by the Sun-Sentinel from September 2006 show Five Points billed the tribe $142,567 to landscape a new home for a tribal member and $53,590 for landscaping at the home of David Cypress' daughter, Marcia Cypress. Her bill included $26,250 for two live-oak trees, $13,090 for sod and $6,075 in mulch.
Before Five Points Corp., another Lawrence-related company received millions from the tribe for landscaping on Big Cypress.
At the 2002 embezzlement trial of three former tribal employees, defense attorneys introduced records showing payments from David Cypress' discretionary account of $5.8 million over 3 1/2 years to Nationwide Landscape, Tree & Lawn Service Inc., run by Amy Theismann, who was Lawrence's girlfriend and now his wife. Cypress paid an additional $1.2 million to Lawrence personally, records show.
Mitchell Cypress, then acting tribal chairman, testified that David Cypress and Lawrence were partners in Nationwide but then clarified his answer: "Not a partner, I don't know, partner or not, but they work together."
Lawrence told the Sun-Sentinel that David Cypress has never been involved in his landscaping businesses. Nationwide dissolved in September 2005, a year after Lawrence incorporated Five Points.
The $1.2 million he received from David Cypress was payment for work he did under another now- defunct company, Kris's Tree Service, he said.
The two bought Warriors Boxing gym in Hollywood in 1997 for $350,000. Lawrence told the newspaper he invested $50,000 but David Cypress bought out his share for that amount in 1999 because he was "low on money."
In July 2005, David Cypress testified in a civil lawsuit that he and Lawrence were still 50-50 partners in the gym.
Lawrence's ties with David Cypress and the Seminoles remain strong.
Last year, Lawrence took over the Bad Ass Coffee Co. franchise at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood. He gave up his lease and franchise in October.
Five Points parks its vehicles and equipment behind Mitchell Cypress' house on the Big Cypress Reservation and on David Cypress' storage lot on the Hollywood Reservation — both rent-free, Lawrence said.
Lawrence and David Cypress are currently directors along with two others in Darrk LLC, which has purchased three properties in Hendry County since 2005 and submitted an application with the city of Clewiston to build townhouses on one of the parcels. Darrk incorporation records list David Cypress at Lawrence's home address.
In August 2005, Lawrence and David Cypress created Triton VI Investments LLC, a failed effort to sell bottled water, Lawrence said.
Lawrence is now embarking on a housing development on a ranch he owns abutting Big Cypress. He said he thinks he has a built-in market: tribal employees who work on the reservation and now commute at least 40 minutes to their jobs. If the tribe proceeds with plans for a full casino resort on Big Cypress, demand for housing will be even greater, he said.
Through David Cypress, the tribe has supported Lawrence's project. To access his ranch, Lawrence needed to build a road on reservation land. The Fry family, which sold the 320-acre ranch to Lawrence, had been unable to get permission from the tribe, according to notes taken by Mary Beth Fry Cooper.
While the ranch was on the market in 2005, a group of investors headed by a Miami businessman offered the Fry family nearly full price — $13,000 an acre — if they could access the property through tribal land.
The family wrote letters and called tribal leaders six times over three months but could not get permission for access, according to Cooper's notes.
"Not good," she wrote after a July 7, 2005, phone conversation with Fred Hopkins, the tribe's real estate director. "He indicated the tribe would be hesitant to grant an easement to the property."
Hopkins told the newspaper it was unclear who the buyers were, what they planned to do with the property and "what's the benefit for the tribe."
Six weeks later, the family received a letter from Lawrence, offering $10,000 an acre with no easement condition, according to Cooper's notes.
He knew about the access problem but "wasn't concerned at all," she told the Sun-Sentinel.
In November 2005, on a motion introduced by David Cypress, the council unanimously approved Lawrence's access request. His company, Roman Gate Enterprises Inc., bought the ranch for $3.2 million in February 2006. Lawrence gave the tribe five acres in return for the easement.
This year, when Lawrence needed more land to meet environmental requirements for wetlands to develop his ranch, the tribe traded him 514 acres owned by a tribal entity, S.T.O.F. Holdings Ltd., immediately north of his property. The tribe received a Hollywood office building owned by another Lawrence company, Greco Roman Holdings Inc.
The April swap was considered an even trade, with each of the properties valued at $1.7 million.
Minutes of Tribal Council briefings show David Cypress supported the swap, calling it a "win/win situation."
Council member Osceola said Lawrence should receive less acreage and called the swap "uneven," the minutes state.
The property Lawrence received in the trade worked out to $3,307 an acre. Five months later, Lawrence sold off almost 300 acres to a Miami-Dade County company for just under $3 million, or about $10,000 an acre, property records show. Even though Osceola questioned the original property swap, he told the newspaper the tribe still got a good deal.
"We got the value that we wanted or could get," Osceola said.
The Hollywood office building the tribe received for a value of $1.7 million was assessed at $337,440 at the time, according to the Broward County Property Appraiser. Lawrence's company paid $800,000 for it in January 2006, records show.
Lawrence said he spent $400,000 to $500,000 in improvements on the building. "I remodeled the whole place ... from top to bottom," he said.
Hollywood city records show no permits for any work on the building in the time Lawrence's company owned it. The previous owner told the Sun-Sentinel Lawrence did extensive work.
The building is next door to David Cypress' gym, where Lawrence had his offices.
At an Oct. 17 meeting in Tampa, the council voted to acquire the gym from David Cypress, giving him 534 acres the tribe owned near Big Cypress plus an undisclosed amount of cash.
Lawrence said David Cypress is not a partner in his planned residential project. He and Osceola said they did not know David Cypress' plans for the land he acquired.
"He hasn't told us, and we didn't ask," Osceola said.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun