In a new case filed against Santa Monica’s biggest developer, NMS Properties, a hedge fund accuses the major Los Angeles developer of acting like a “criminal enterprise” that operates through forgeries, lies, threats and sham lawsuits.
The latest lawsuit filed by AEW alleges NMS’s CEO Neil Shekhter’s misdeeds go far beyond submitting forged documents to the court. The lawsuit claims he has sent fake contracts to banks and lenders to confuse the terms of a joint venture agreement (JVA) between the two companies worth more than half a billion dollars.
“In order to inflict maximum pressure on Plaintiffs, Defendants also initiated a series of copycat lawsuits involving the same false and misleading allegations regarding the authenticity and validity of the JVA,” reads the complaint filed Jan. 25th in federal court, adding the lawsuits amount to extortion intending to “sue AEW until it breaks.”
Back in December, a federal judge found Shekhter forged contracts, lied and destroyed evidence in a lawsuit to buy out AEW’s interest in nine properties, six of which are in Santa Monica. The judge gave AEW full control of the properties and the hedge fund quickly sold them to a San Francisco developer for about $430 million, much less than market value.
Shekhter’s attorneys have appealed the ruling and filed a counter-suit, accusing AEW of its own shady dealings to sell the buildings. In the meantime, NMS continued to manage the properties and collect rent from tenants.
That all changed last week, when a separate judge stepped in and put a third party, Lincoln Property Company in charge of the buildings. Shekhter’s attorney, Skip Miller of Miller Barondess, LLP, says tenants will not notice the change in management. Websites for the specific properties involved now redirect to NMS’s general website. A notice on the door of at least one building alerts tenants to the management shake-up.
It’s not clear what will happen to NMS’s employees who work in those buildings, although some may move to other properties managed by NMS that are not involved in the litigation.
“Lincoln is a very professional company,” Miller said. “As long as the money is safely in an account that’s what we care about. We plan to win this litigation.”
But to lawyer James Fogelman with Gibson Dunn, the litigation is part of Shekhter’s scheme to defraud and extort AEW. To date, Shekhter has filed eight lawsuits against AEW. Fogelman and his team now want Shekhter to pay for the damage he’s done to AEW’s reputation and their ability to make money off the joint venture. If a judge rules in AEW’s favor, the payout could add up to millions of dollars.
The two sides are arguing over when Shekhter could buy out AEW’s stake in the nine properties. The market was in a rut when the two sides formed the contract to develop the properties in 2010. Three years later, real estate values rebounded and the market stabilized. Shekhter suddenly had a huge incentive to cut AEW out of the pictures and keep future profits to himself. He hit a wall when he realized the joint agreement lasted until 2015, according to court documents.
That’s when the complaint alleges “Shekhter and his co-conspirators set about to defraud and/or extort AEW into selling its interest to Shekhter.” A federal judge found Shekhter created a fake contract that included a three-year buy/sell agreement and presented it to the court.
But the new lawsuit alleges he didn’t stop there. Shekhter, his wife, his children and other employees at NMS created more fake documents and sent them to at least five lending houses. When AEW tried to sell the properties, interested parties received copies of forged documents.
Last October, the alleged forged contracts finally had their day in court.
A former U.S. Secret Service forensic expert testified the documents were forgeries “so blatant … that you would do a presentation on it or write about it in a text book.”
Another expert in electronic forensics said Shekhter and NMS were “almost like a case study in anti-forensic measures.”
The experts were able to track down the exact time the documents were created in Adobe Reader, transferred on thumb drives, and printed. The experts found the documents were created in 2013, three years into the agreement. They also discovered a day before they were supposed to hand over their computers as evidence, Shekhter’s son Alan searched Google for: “secure wipe hard drive,” “backdated secure wipe,” and “los angeles anti-computer forensics.”
Before turning over his computer as evidence, the court found Shekhter and his son replaced the hard drive and tried to cover their tracks by backdating the computer’s clock and flooding the hard drive with more than 75,000 backdated files and folders. When caught in the act, Shekhter told the court he replaced the hard drive to delete “private personal pictures of my wife.”
To Fogelman, the alleged lies, forgeries and lawsuits add up to racketeering. The lawsuit alleges Shekhter participated in the operation and management of a criminal enterprise to rip-off AEW. As a result, both sides ended up losing money on the venture.
Shekhter’s attorneys have not yet responded to the new allegations. While Lincoln Properties manages the buildings, profits from rent will go into an escrow account. As the cases make their way through the court, the money will continue to grow until a judge makes a final decision whom it belongs to.
The properties include seven buildings in Santa Monica: the Lido at 1440 5th Street, Quonset at 829 Broadway, Lincoln Walk at 1447 Lincoln Blvd, San Marco at 1420 5th Street, Rapallo at 1430 5th Street, Luxe Broadway at 1502 Broadway and 1511 15th Street. One other property is in Los Angeles: 9901 Washington Blvd, and another is in West Hollywood: Luxe La Cienega at 375 N. La Cienega Boulevard