A prominent South Carolina developer has launched a high-stakes legal battle to recover what he says is a huge loss to his business due to a conspiracy of false information surrounding multiple projects.

The $120 million lawsuit, filed in local court by Dick Stewart’s company, Beaufort Inn, LLC and 303 Associates, LLC, also seeks to end what Stewart calls a “vicious cycle of obstruction” that he and his development have endured over the years. According to the Island Post.

Graham Trask and his father, George G. Trask, are named as defendants in the lawsuit for being outspoken critics of Stewart’s project.

At the heart of the conflict is a proposed new development within Beaufort’s famous historic district.

Stewart’s hotel and parking plan has been approved by the city but faces delays due to a court appeal brought by Graham Trask and the historic Beaufort Foundation.

The lawsuit accuses the Trask family of using false information, threats of lawsuits and intimidation tactics to block the downtown project.

Stewart alleges that the Trask family and HBF have been colluding to undermine approved developments through misinformation campaigns and legal challenges.

The lawsuit alleges that George Trask’s online news site, The Beaufort Tribune, was a platform used to spread false information about 303 Associates and its programs. Renderings of the hotel in particular have been the target of a so-called disinformation campaign, with one titled “Red Menace” showing a large, imposing building bearing the Marriott label.

The lawsuit says the renderings intentionally misrepresent the project.

“The renderings amounted to lies because they were intentionally deceptive and misrepresented the quality, size, and height of the hotel project in an apparent attempt to annoy viewers,” the lawsuit said, according to the outlet.

Stewart said the city conducted a thorough study and concluded the buildings would not overwhelm the surrounding neighborhood, as Trasks and HBF have claimed. The 70-room hotel will be an extension of the existing Beaufort Inn, while the parking lot will replace the hotel’s existing parking lot and will remain available for public use.

Stewart is seeking $40 million in actual damages attributable to lost revenue, inflation-related increases in material and labor costs due to construction delays, and an additional $80 million in punitive damages including reputational damage, personnel time and legal fees, the outlet said.

The legal battle is the latest chapter in a long-running feud between 303 Associates, the Beaufort Inn and their critics.

While the Trask family and HBF have long opposed Stewart’s project, a recent court ruling sided with the city and 303 Associates, maintaining project approval.

Ted Glazer

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