ORLANDO, Fla. — 9 Investigates what really happened before plans for a permanent Pulse memorial at the site of the nightclub suddenly changed.
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“If there is a hold out partner, or whatever, then be honest with that and figure out how to make it work. But don’t just refuse to sell this. This is sacred ground,” Commissioner Patty Sheehan said.
Tonight, WFTV has uncovered the reason the deal to donate the Pulse nightclub site for a memorial collapsed. Barbara Poma and her husband, Rosario, have long taken heat over the potential profit of a sale of the Pulse property, but tonight they told us a third owner is the one who refused to donate his portion.
Investigative Reporter Karla Ray got ahold of that third, silent partner, to get his side of the story today. He told 9 Investigates he is simply an investor, and pointed back to the failures of the onePulse Foundation.
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The Pomas said in a statement:
“We understand the community’s concerns regarding the onePULSE Foundation’s announcement; Rosario and I are saddened by these circumstances. We now seek to bring clarity to the public’s perception. We are well aware that detractors will continue to speak negatively about us and do so without any facts. That’s unfortunate and out of our control.
Earlier this year we informed the Foundation, both verbally and in writing, that we made the decision to donate our share of the property. However, our partner, who owns the remaining parcel, chose not to donate his share. We have no control over his business decisions. As a result, we were unable to satisfy the Foundation’s requirement for the full donation of the property.
We built Pulse Nightclub as a place of love and acceptance – all of which was taken the night a gunman entered the club and took the lives of 49 innocent victims. As small business owners, we have spent the last seven years working to honor and remember the Angels, their families, survivors, first responders and the LGBTQ+ community, while attempting to navigate an unprecedented tragedy and its unanticipated fallout.”
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That third partner, Michael Panaggio, is a businessman and philanthropist from Daytona Beach. Via text, he said:
“I’m an investor only. I was never involved with Pulse in any way except as a silent investor. Why would they ask a totally silent investor to donate to their foundation. Talking to me gets you nowhere. I don’t know anything about any of it. I can only speculate that the [one]Pulse Foundation has become desperate for any kind of win.”
Next month will mark 7 years since Pulse became the site of what was then the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history, and a permanent memorial to honor the victims and survivors is further off than ever.
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“I thought that the onePulse Foundation had a good working relationship with he Pomas,” Sheehan said. “I had always been told that the plan was going to be by them, to me personally, before I was no longer involved, that they would donate this to the onePulse Foundation.”
But the Pomas are not the sole owners of the site. In 2018, two years after the shooting, they brought in business partner Michael Panaggio to manage an LLC connected to the property. He told the New York Times that the change acknowledged a loan he made to the couple when they started Pulse.
“I received an email stating that the [one]Pulse Foundation expected me to donate my real estate ownership on the property. It’s my collateral for the investment I made 20 years ago,” Panaggio said via text message. “I’m a nobody in this deal. I’m the equivalent of a bank as an investor that took property as collateral. The story is not me. The story is the [one]Pulse Foundation and have they accomplished anything the past 7 years.”
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In response to questions by 9 Investigates today, onePulse leaders said via email that the board of trustees asked the Pomas to buy their business partner’s interest out. That did not happen.
Sheehan questions why.
“If you want to make something work, you figure out a way. And if you really want to make the donation, you work with your partners and you find a way,” Sheehan said.
The Pomas were offered $2-million for the property before Panaggio was in the picture, but they refused that offer from the City of Orlando back in 2016. Poma stepped away from the onePulse Foundation, which she launched following the mass shooting, just last month. No word on what will happen next with the memorial project.
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