Dinuba council member must pay city in lease dispute

A doctor who lived in Clovis but moved to Dinuba and was elected last year to the Dinuba City Council has been ordered by a jury to pay the city $47,900 for a building he leased.

The jury came to the verdict Thursday in the city’s civil lawsuit against Dr. Kuldip Thusu and Universal Biopharma Research Institute Inc., a company Thusu owns.

The jury also ruled Universal Biopharma does not have to pay anything because the city did not have an enforceable contract with the company.

The city originally sued Thusu and the company, which does clinical drug trials, for $1.3 million, alleging failure to make lease payments. During the trial, Judge Lloyd Hicks reduced the potential liability to $212,000.

Thusu hailed the verdict as “a vindication ... It’s a fair amount.”

Interim City Manager Dan Meinert said the four other members of the City Council will discuss the verdict at a closed session meeting April 14. They have been advised by legal counsel to make no public statements for now, he said.

Biopharma occupied the Dinuba Vocational Center building in downtown Dinuba from 2011 to 2013, and Thusu brought in a private college to train medical assistants and pharmacy technicians.

Thusu testified he stopped making lease payments because the city failed to keep a promise by City Manager Ed Todd, now retired, to sell him the building.

He said he signed the lease — without reading it — at the city manager’s request as a stop-gap measure while the purchase agreement was being drawn up, which never happened.

The city’s attorney, James McBrearty, said Thusu signed the lease and a document guaranteeing payment and was obligated to make good.

“Dr. Thusu is a sophisticated businessman,” McBrearty said. “Dr. Thusu made a bad decision that did not pan out.”

But Thusu’s attorney Charles Doerksen said the lease was not valid after the city failed to produce the purchase agreement.

Additionally, Thusu spent $250,000 on building maintenance and improvements, Doerksen said.

The city backed out because it wants to use the building as a city hall, he said.

“Shame on the city for not telling Dr. Thusu it changed its mind,” Doerksen said.

After the verdict was announced, Doerksen said that Thusu had offered to settle out of court for $100,000 but was turned down.

Thusu said he will seek to recover legal fees for Biopharma and expects they will exceed the amount he was ordered to pay.

Thusu said he first moved to Dinuba in 1998 and has been CEO of Alta Health Clinic since 2001. In the four years before his election, he lived in Dinuba on and off, and last year bought his cousin’s home in Dinuba, he said.

“I live there now,” he said. He produced a driver’s license with the address of the Dinuba home.

He said his wife and teen child live in Clovis and he spends weekends there.