Premier Properties and Criminal Charges and Real Estate & Retail

Criminal charges possible in Premier blowup

April 28, 2008

Authorities are considering pursuing criminal charges against Christopher P. White and other executives at Premier Properties USA Inc. in connection with deepening troubles at the local development firm, sources familiar with the matter told IBJ.

Possible charges include check fraud and criminal mischief stemming from a $500,000 bad check White deposited into an account with The National Bank of Indianapolis in January. Accusations also are flying over whether White and Premier paid payroll taxes and properly credited employee 401(k) and health savings account contributions and insurance premiums.

It wasn’t clear at IBJ’s deadline whether the company still is operating at all. No one answered several phone calls to Premier’s Woodfield Crossing headquarters, where 80 employees worked as recently as December. And the company’s second-floor offices—no longer accessible without an elevator key—were dark during a recent visit.

The company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on April 23—a move that puts on hold the onslaught of litigation filed against the company in recent weeks. In one of the newest cases, Premier’s former director of development, Steve Medders, filed suit in Marion Circuit Court April 15, accusing White of refusing to pay $70,000 in severance pay.

The employment contract for Medders—who earned $140,000 per year—says he is entitled to six months of pay if terminated without cause. He was laid off March 28, along with dozens of other employees.

Another lawsuit, filed April 11, accuses Premier of trying to sell all its assets—including hundreds of thousands of dollars of leased furniture. Premier hadn’t paid its $13,000 monthly lease payment for the furniture since October 2007, the suit claims.

Banc of America Leasing & Capital, which took over the furniture lease from Steelcase Financial Services Inc., is asking for a judgment of more than $400,000 against Premier. The suit claims the furniture “is in danger of being removed from the jurisdiction or converted to cash.”

Fishers-based Mainscape Inc. also has filed suit, alleging Premier owes more than $550,000 for snow removal and landscaping services at the Woodfield Crossing office complex, Metropolis mall and Plainfield Commons.

And one of Premier’s largest lenders, Atlanta-based Dominion Capital Management LLC, took control of most of its properties—including the Metropolis mall in Plainfield—on April 17 after an auction for White’s ownership interests drew no bidders.

As White built the 15-year-old company, he developed a reputation for ferrying business associates in his private jets, throwing lavish parties at his Lake Clearwater home, and pulling off seemingly impossible deals.

But White’s success sputtered after easy credit disappeared. Premier and its founder now are facing numerous lawsuits alleging unpaid bills and defaulted loans. IBJ first reported on the problems at Premier in December.

Marion County Prosecutor Carl Brizzi and FBI spokeswoman Wendy Osborne would not say whether criminal investigations of White or Premier are under way. But others say authorities are considering charges, and tackling questions about jurisdiction and criminality.

Criminal records show White, 50, has been arrested twice within the last 10 years for driving while intoxicated and has faced several other traffic violations, including seven speeding tickets since 1992. He’s had his license suspended on at least five occasions.

His most recent traffic arrest was on June 23, 2007. A Lawrence Police Department officer pulled over his 2007 Range Rover along 82nd Street near Haverstick Road after White changed lanes without signaling. The officer reported White had bloodshot eyes, slurred speech and smelled like alcohol. White refused a breath test and was taken to jail.

On a public-defender questionnaire, White scribbled that his two-week income was more than $100,000 and his annual income was more than $1 million. To the question of whether he owned real estate, he circled “Yes” and added “A LOT.”

On March 25—as his real estate empire was crumbling—White appeared in court to accept a plea agreement. He pleaded guilty to a charge of failure to signal and paid a $300 fine.

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