Gen. Votel is suing after losing 'irreplaceable' gifts from world leaders in MacDill house fire

Gen. Joseph Votel. Photo: Lisa Ferdinando/DoD

TAMPA — A lawsuit reveals the extent of the loss from a fire two years ago that burned the home of the former U.S. Central Command leader and destroyed its contents, including gifts from world leaders and art and antiques collected by his wife.

Five companies and property managers are named in the suit filed by Joseph Votel, who retired last month as an Army general and CentCom leader after nearly 39 years in the service.

The fire at Votel's MacDill Air Force Base home started after a temporary power line was nailed to an outdoor pole while crews were repairing damage from a water leak in the slab of the home, according to an investigation cited in the lawsuit.

Votel, 61, and his wife Michele had moved out of the home at 8124 Constellation Blvd. during the repair work, but left most of their belongings behind, the lawsuit says.

READ MORE: Retiring Gen. Joseph Votel recalls challenges of CentCom, the Middle East

Military police discovered the fire at about 6 p.m. on Jan. 28, 2017, a Saturday. Fire rescue units from Tampa and St. Petersburg battled the blaze but it swept quickly through the home, the lawsuit says. The investigation was conducted by Tampa Fire Rescue and the U.S. Air Force Office of Special Investigations.

The home and virtually all of its contents were destroyed by fire, or by water and smoke damage, the lawsuit says. No itemized list of losses is provided in the lawsuit, but as CentCom leader for three years, Votel worked with countries in the CentCom region and beyond.

The 20-nation swath of territory stretches from Egypt east to Kazakhstan and includes the scenes of conflict involving U.S. forces during Votel's tenure, including Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.

The losses to the fire included "irreplaceable and invaluable gifts ... from world leaders as well as unique, irreplaceable items of great historical and cultural significance," the lawsuit says.

They also included "commemorative items from the men and women with whom he served to honor his leadership," the lawsuit says.

"All of these items had great meaning to plaintiff Joseph Votel and can never be replaced. Some of these people lost their lives in service to our country."

The fire also destroyed one-of-a kind keepsakes and collectibles from around the world, priceless family heirlooms, and irreplaceable family memorabilia gathered by Michele Votel, who is described as an experienced collector of art and antiques, the lawsuit says.

Other losses, according the lawsuit, include household goods and furnishings and use of a home specially built for the CentCom commander to host receptions for world and military leaders.

In its description of how the fire started, the lawsuit points to two companies that were doing water damage repair — defendants Damage Recovery LLC and Dri-Ez LLC.

Also named as defendants are Fuller Construction Group LLC, the general contractor on the repair and restoration work; AMC East Communities LLC, which leased the home to the Votels; and Michaels Management Services Inc., which oversees housing management at MacDill.

Representatives for Damage Recovery and Fuller Construction could not immediately be reached Friday. Messages left for AMC East Communities and Michaels were not immediately returned. Hurduise Simon, owner of Dri-Ez, said his company has never been to the property.

The lawsuit does not mention mold as one of the problems arising from the water leak at the Votel home, but in an interview just before his retirement Votel told the Tampa Bay Times it's one reason he and his wife had to move out.

Like military families in base housing at MacDill and nationwide, Votel said black mold permeated his home — a concern that has drawn congressional inquiry and pledges of remediation by the private companies that manage the housing.

Staff writer Tony Marrero contributed to this report.


©2019 the Tampa Bay Times (St. Petersburg, Fla.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

SEE ALSO: CENTCOM commander Gen. Votel: ISIS will be back

WATCH NEXT: Meet The Army Helo Pilot Who Took Supplies To Woodstock

US Marine Corps

The Marine lieutenant colonel who was removed from command of 1st Reconnaissance Battalion in May is accused of lying to investigators looking into allegations of misconduct, according to a copy of his charge sheet provided to Task & Purpose on Monday.

Read More Show Less

President Donald Trump just can't stop telling stories about former Defense Secretary James Mattis. This time, the president claims Mattis said U.S. troops were so perilously low on ammunition that it would be better to hold off launching a military operation.

"You know, when I came here, three years ago almost, Gen. Mattis told me, 'Sir, we're very low on ammunition,'" Trump recalled on Monday at the White House. "I said, 'That's a horrible thing to say.' I'm not blaming him. I'm not blaming anybody. But that's what he told me because we were in a position with a certain country, I won't say which one; we may have had conflict. And he said to me: 'Sir, if you could, delay it because we're very low on ammunition.'

"And I said: You know what, general, I never want to hear that again from another general," Trump continued. "No president should ever, ever hear that statement: 'We're low on ammunition.'"

Read More Show Less

At least one Air Force base is waging a slow battle against feral hogs — and way, way more than 30-50 of them.

A Texas trapper announced on Monday that his company had removed roughly 1,200 feral hogs from Joint Base San Antonio property at the behest of the service since 2016.

Read More Show Less

In a move that could see President Donald Trump set foot on North Korean soil again, Kim Jong Un has invited the U.S. leader to Pyongyang, a South Korean newspaper reported Monday, as the North's Foreign Ministry said it expected stalled nuclear talks to resume "in a few weeks."

A letter from Kim, the second Trump received from the North Korean leader last month, was passed to the U.S. president during the third week of August and came ahead of the North's launch of short-range projectiles on Sept. 10, the South's Joongang Ilbo newspaper reported, citing multiple people familiar with the matter.

In the letter, Kim expressed his willingness to meet the U.S. leader for another summit — a stance that echoed Trump's own remarks just days earlier.

Read More Show Less

Editor's Note: This article by Oriana Pawlyk originally appeared on, a leading source of news for the military and veteran community.

On April 14, 2018, two B-1B Lancer bombers fired off payloads of Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missiles against weapons storage plants in western Syria, part of a shock-and-awe response to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's use of chemical weapons against his citizens that also included strikes from Navy destroyers and submarines.

In all, the two bombers fired 19 JASSMs, successfully eliminating their targets. But the moment would ultimately be one of the last — and certainly most publicized — strategic strikes for the aircraft before operations began to wind down for the entire fleet.

A few months after the Syria strike, Air Force Global Strike Command commander Gen. Tim Ray called the bombers back home. Ray had crunched the data, and determined the non-nuclear B-1 was pushing its capabilities limit. Between 2006 and 2016, the B-1 was the sole bomber tasked continuously in the Middle East. The assignment was spread over three Lancer squadrons that spent one year at home, then six month deployed — back and forth for a decade.

The constant deployments broke the B-1 fleet. It's no longer a question of if, but when the Air Force and Congress will send the aircraft to the Boneyard. But Air Force officials are still arguing the B-1 has value to offer, especially since it's all the service really has until newer bombers hit the flight line in the mid-2020s.

Read More Show Less