Mannequin Tobacco developer sued by two buyers who declare fraud

The Artwork Deco-style Mannequin Tobacco constructing alongside Richmond Freeway. Banners promoting the residences have been added in current months. (Jonathan Spiers images)

As work continues on an enormous redevelopment of the previous Mannequin Tobacco advanced in South Richmond, the developer behind the multimillion-dollar undertaking is dealing with a federal lawsuit from two of his buyers.

Filed Tuesday within the U.S. District Courtroom in Richmond, the go well with accuses developer Chris Harrison of committing fraud and cash laundering in an effort to wrest management of the undertaking from the 2 buyers.

The go well with alleges that Harrison induced the buyers underneath false pretenses into placing greater than twice the sum of money into the undertaking than they’d initially agreed, then tricked them into altering its administration construction with the intention of diluting their pursuits within the undertaking.

The go well with was filed by SS Richmond LLC and MK Richmond LLC, funding entities owned by Steven Snider and R. Michael Kuehn, respectively. Snider is the founding father of Snider & Weinstein, a D.C.-based actual property regulation agency.

Developer Chris Harrison at a ceremony in December when the constructing’s signage was illuminated for the primary time in a long time. (Mannequin Tobacco Lofts video screenshot)

Snider and Kuehn have been buyers in one other Harrison undertaking in D.C. when Harrison approached them about investing in Mannequin Tobacco, in accordance with the go well with. The buyers agreed, in late 2017, to speculate $1.6 million into Mannequin Tobacco and shaped a improvement group with Harrison to manage their relationship.

The go well with alleges that Harrison violated the group’s working settlement with a number of monetary transactions that required the buyers’ approval, misrepresented the undertaking’s readiness and timeline, and finally induced them to place $2.2 million extra into the undertaking following delays with financing and the property’s closing.

The buyers allege that Harrison informed them that the closing would happen in early 2018, representing to them that the undertaking – a redevelopment of the Artwork Deco-style constructing and 15-acre advanced into 275 income-based residences – can be full by 2019 and they might begin seeing returns on their funding later that 12 months.

Harrison wouldn’t shut on the property till mid-2020, three years after placing it underneath contract.

The go well with goes on to allege that Harrison created a fraudulent firm in an effort to carry different buyers into the undertaking and basically steal it away from Snider and Kuehn. It alleges false paperwork have been created to safe Snider and Kuehn’s signatures to authorize adjustments to the group’s working settlement and energy construction, decreasing their pursuits and management over the undertaking.

The go well with claims racketeering, breaches of contract and fraud, and seeks Harrison’s dissociation from the event group. It seeks a jury trial and award of damages, together with the practically $4 million in preliminary funding and extra capital put into the undertaking.

Harrison is known as individually as a defendant within the case together with three enterprise entities, together with his Maryland-based C.A. Harrison Cos.

Harrison was reportedly served with the go well with Wednesday. Requests for remark left on his cell phone Wednesday and Thursday weren’t returned.

Staff have been energetic on the web site this week.

The 55-page go well with was filed by a workforce with the D.C. workplace of Quinn Emmanuel Urquhart & Sullivan. Lead lawyer Keith Forst mentioned Harrison could have 21 days from the date of service to reply to the go well with.

In an interview Thursday, Forst described the go well with as “a step of final resort” after unsuccessful back-and-forth between his purchasers and Harrison.

“Our purchasers naturally wish to be made complete of their funding,” Forst mentioned. “They’ve put in over one hundred pc of what they meant to, a complete of $4 million now.

“No one ever needs to litigate. No one ever will get to a deal considering it’s not going to finish up the place it ought to find yourself, particularly while you’re doing enterprise and also you go in and imagine and belief your accomplice,” he added. “In the end, Steve and Mike’s corporations, they wish to see (Mannequin Tobacco) achieve success. They view it as a ton of worth and alternative for Richmond.”

The case follows different lawsuits filed in opposition to Harrison on different improvement initiatives – together with the D.C. undertaking that concerned Snider and Kuehn, and maybe most notably, Harrison’s stalled redevelopment of the previous Ramada Inn constructing in Petersburg.

Litigation stays energetic in each of these circumstances, with Harrison interesting a ruling within the buyers’ favor within the D.C. case, and the Metropolis of Petersburg suing Harrison for constructing code violations.

Work on the previous Ramada Inn in Petersburg has stalled whereas the Mannequin Tobacco undertaking has progressed. (BizSense file)

In an preliminary listening to in December, Petersburg was granted a abstract judgment that ordered Harrison to abate or treatment the violations inside six months. That window is about to shut June 8. A subsequent listening to within the case is to be scheduled.

Forst mentioned the three circumstances present a sample of fraud by Harrison that the Mannequin Tobacco lawsuit goals to carry to gentle.

“From Petersburg to right here to D.C. to a whole lot of potential developments that must be profitable, (Harrison) has been taking part in a wide range of video games and, in our purchasers’ view as acknowledged within the criticism, fraudulently inducing not solely them however others to spend money on initiatives that sadly aren’t as profitable as he makes them imagine,” Forst mentioned.

“I believe our purchasers really feel some obligation to shine a light-weight on it and (that) it’s time to place this on the market and make individuals conscious of what they imagine is an individual who’s making an attempt to do issues on false pretenses in an space that’s necessary to them.”

In the meantime, work seems to be progressing on the Mannequin Tobacco web site, the place landscapers and different staff have been energetic this week. Giant banners promoting the residences, referred to as Mannequin Tobacco Lofts, are displayed on every finish of the primary constructing, and images and movies posted on social media present building progressing. An open home for potential tenants is scheduled later this month.

Harrison mentioned in 2020 that the undertaking’s first section was estimated to price about $59 million. The section includes bringing 203 of the house items on-line within the constructing, together with an occasion area and facilities within the web site’s former energy plant constructing. Plans additionally name for an leisure venue with a beer backyard and restaurant area.

Mark Turner Building is the contractor on the undertaking, and Walter Parks Architects is the designer. John B. Levy & Co. organized the financing by Allegacy Federal Credit score Union, with further financing offered by Virginia Housing.

Model Tobacco developer sued by two investors who claim fraud