IBJNews

Lender alleges Lauth insiders backdated loan documents

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

The largest creditor for Lauth Group Inc. has asked a bankruptcy judge to appoint a trustee after evidence in a related case suggested Lauth insiders may have backdated documents to thwart creditors.

An affiliate of Chicago-based Inland American Real Estate Trust cited the testimony of former Lauth CFO Thomas Peck in arguing the principals of Lauth have “significant disabling conflicts of interest” that prevent them from carrying out a duty to act in the interest of creditors “as opposed to their own selfish interests.”

Lauth

Inland, which invested $228 million in 2007 for an ownership stake in dozens of Lauth properties, had been talking with Lauth officials about a potential settlement for months. But those talks came to a standstill late last year after Peck described a pattern of “self-dealing” by Lauth insiders including Chairman Bob Lauth and a flurry of backdated indemnity agreements insiders signed several months before the company’s bankruptcy.

In a Nov. 23 deposition, Peck described the circumstances surrounding an agreement that relieved him of loan guarantees on Lauth projects that potentially could have allowed lenders to go after his personal assets. The agreement essentially was a promise that, should a lender pursue Peck’s assets, a Lauth corporate entity would reimburse him.

Peck said he signed the agreement in December 2008—almost 18 months after the document’s listed effective date of July 2007—and after some of the company’s properties already had begun to default.

Other Lauth executives signed similar so-called indemnification agreements personally and on behalf of Lauth subsidiaries. The deals effectively reduced the amount available for Inland and other creditors to recover in the bankruptcy proceedings. The agreements, meanwhile, let insiders off the hook for as much as $400 million in personal guarantees on loans for properties Lauth developed.

Legality questioned

Inland points out Lauth’s own document-numbering system backs up its contention that the company backdated indemnification agreements. Documents actually signed in July 2007 are numbered from 3761 to 3813, while indemnifications for subsidiaries LIP-D and LIP-I—both now in bankruptcy—state they were entered into “as of” July 2007 but are numbered between 18034 and 18048.

Lauth maintains Inland agreed to indemnify Lauth executives as part of its 2007 investment deal. Lauth attorney Vernon Back chalked up the months that passed before the documents were signed to a simple oversight.

“Some were executed as early as June 2007 and others as late as December 2008 when it was learned that they had not been signed as part of the original documentation of the transaction,” Back wrote in an e-mail.

Peck, the former executive, said he questioned the legality of the documents at the time he signed them in December 2008. The documents were not shared with Inland.

“I was concerned about whether or not this document would be legally enforceable,” Peck said in the deposition. “Not being an attorney, I wondered as to the ability of the Lauth organization to have indemnities like this signed without Inland being a party to the document.”

A local bankruptcy attorney not involved in the case said delays between effective dates and executed dates aren’t unusual in contracts, but an 18-month delay raises concerns.

“I’ve never heard of a deal that was legitimate of that nature,” said the attorney, who spoke on condition of anonymity fearing a backlash from potential clients. “It sounds like a lawyer got involved, took a look at the mess they had and said, ‘Look, the only way you’re going to get out of this personally is have this occur by this date.’ It sounds like they were scrambling.”

Trustee needed?

Inland said in a Dec. 23 filing that the secret indemnification agreements show Lauth’s insiders are not capable of carrying out their legal duty to maximize the company’s remaining assets for the benefit of creditors.

If Inland prevails in its motion, a trustee would take control of the business from the Lauth insiders.

“The debtors should not be allowed to continue to run these bankruptcy cases for the primary benefit of the indemnified insiders,” Inland said in the filing.

Lauth, in a response filed Jan. 8, offered a blistering critique of Inland’s courtroom maneuvering but did not deny the allegations that it backdated documents. Lauth called the appointment of a trustee an “extraordinary remedy” that first would require substantial discovery spread out over several months.

“Having slumbered for over five months while it sought to extract a deal, [Inland] should not be permitted to cry ‘fire!’ in a last-ditch effort to derail the substantial restructuring efforts conducted by the debtors,” Lauth’s attorneys wrote.

Lauth’s troubles began in early 2008 as demand dried up for the speculative office, industrial and retail developments that had fueled its rapid growth. The company doubled its revenue from 2004 to 2005, then doubled it again from 2005 to 2006. During the same period, Lauth’s project lineup jumped from $143 million to $592 million.

The company started 2008 with about 450 employees, but layoffs have shrunk the staff to about 40.

Lauth defaulted on its agreement to pay dividends to Inland in late 2008, and several Lauth subsidiaries filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization in May 2009.

Inland initially challenged Lauth’s bankruptcy filing by claiming it had taken control of the subsidiary above the entities that filed, LIP Holdings LLC, after Lauth defaulted.

But Lauth pointed to a section of the original agreement with Inland that required approval from at least one Lauth representative and one Inland representative for major company decisions, including a change in control. The judge agreed with Lauth’s interpretation.

Malfeasance alleged

A separate Inland entity in July 2009 filed suit against Lauth principals Robert Lauth, Michael S. Curless, Gregory Gurnik and Lawrence Palmer—along with former CFO Thomas Peck—alleging fraud, conspiracy and racketeering.

The suit accuses the Lauth executives of diverting more than $18 million of the Inland investment for unauthorized purposes and of secretly rewriting contracts to let themselves off the hook for personal guarantees on struggling real estate projects.

Lauth and Gurnik, the firm’s top two executives, had guaranteed loans of more than $120 million each.

Their personal guarantees were a big factor in Inland’s decision to invest—since the company believed Lauth owners’ personal stakes would add incentive to ensure success of the projects. But Lauth changed the terms three weeks after accepting the funds, the suit alleges.

Inland made similar but vague allegations earlier in the bankruptcy proceedings, but the company sees Peck’s testimony as strong evidence their suspicions were correct.

Peck, who initiated and helped negotiate the original investment deal with Inland, said he believes Inland named him in its lawsuit as leverage against the owners of Lauth. He left the company in January 2009.

“I was very upset and disappointed and frustrated and scared … that I was part of this lawsuit,” he said in his deposition.

He described a pattern of self-dealing by Lauth’s insiders—a theme Inland has repeated since the bankruptcy filing. Examples Peck cited: Company principals often stood on both sides of deals, and collected development and construction fees early.

Wells Fargo also sued Lauth, in June 2009, alleging company principals transferred millions of dollars in cash and properties to their wives and family trusts in an attempt to shield the assets from lenders.

Lauth has denied the allegations in both cases.•

 

 

ADVERTISEMENT

  • Juvenile Journalism
    Having returned to my hometown after several years in Los Angeles, from the Indy Star to IBJ I have never witnessed such poor journalism from mistakes in elementary grammar and mispelling to obvious factual inaccuracies detrimental to both the entities in the content and readers alike. Come on Indianapolis... get it right!
  • My Ltr to Editor. Not asking for special treatment, just fair & accurate reporting
    The January 18th story about Lauth Investment Properties, LLC (â??LIPâ??) was misleading and incorrect.

    You refer to Inland American as â??the largest creditorâ?¦â?? Inland is not a creditor, it is a joint venture partner in a LIP subsidiary holding company, an entity that is not in bankruptcy. This fact is indisputable.

    Lauth Group, Inc is not a debtor in this case or part of the bankruptcy filing. Itâ??s a completely separate company which has provided development, construction and property management services for nearly 33 years now.

    LIP is not a subsidiary of Lauth Group, Inc as has been incorrectly reported on numerous occasions. These two legally unrelated entities cannot be used interchangeably. These are distinctly different companies with different purposes, ownership and management.

    You refer to â??a flurry of backdated indemnity agreementsâ??. As our counsel explained at a recent hearing before Judge Lorch, the obligation to indemnify the personal guarantors dates back to the beginning of the venture. The indemnity agreements simply reiterate the rights granted in the original contribution agreements.

    Finally, you state that Inland â??accusesâ?¦executives of diverting more than $18 million of the Inland investmentâ?¦and secretly re-writing contracts to let themselves off the hook for personal guaranteesâ?¦â?? All three points are wrong.

    There has been no diversion of funds. Every dollar received by LIP Investment from Inland has been invested in real estate owned by LIP Investment.

    No contracts have been re-written, secretly or otherwise. Nor have the personal guarantors â??gotten themselves off the hookâ?? on any guaranties. To this day, the personal guarantors still personally guarantee the loans.

    LIP Investment has made significant progress to see that LIP Investment exits bankruptcy successfully. The Lauth members have funded $15 million in debtor-in-possession financing, worked diligently to protect the companyâ??s assets and negotiated with lenders to secure the necessary financing. LIP Investment remains committed to protect LIP Investmentâ??s legitimate creditors, preserve the value of its assets and exit bankruptcy as soon as possible.

    Finally, there is something important that you have not included in your reports. Inland is not the only entity that stands to lose. Lauth members invested to the tune of $120 million in cash and completed properties. Unfortunately, all of their investment will be lost during the bankruptcy process.

    The LIP bankruptcy is a very complicated matter. LIP Investment is not asking for special treatment; just fair and accurate reporting.

    Sincerely,

    LIP Investment, LLC



Post a comment to this story

COMMENTS POLICY
We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
 
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
 
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in IBJ editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
 
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
 
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.
 

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by
ADVERTISEMENT

facebook - twitter on Facebook & Twitter

Follow on TwitterFollow IBJ on Facebook:
Follow on TwitterFollow IBJ's Tweets on these topics:
 
Subscribe to IBJ
  1. The deductible is entirely paid by the POWER account. No one ever has to contribute more than $25/month into the POWER account and it is often less. The only cost not paid out of the POWER account is the ER copay ($8-25) for non-emergent use of the ER. And under HIP 2.0, if a member calls the toll-free, 24 hour nurse line, and the nurse tells them to go to the ER, the copay is waived. It's also waived if the member is admitted to the hospital. Honestly, although it is certainly not "free" - I think Indiana has created a decent plan for the currently uninsured. Also consider that if a member obtains preventive care, she can lower her monthly contribution for the next year. Non-profits may pay up to 75% of the contribution on behalf of the member, and the member's employer may pay up to 50% of the contribution.

  2. I wonder if the governor could multi-task and talk to CMS about helping Indiana get our state based exchange going so Hoosiers don't lose subsidy if the court decision holds. One option I've seen is for states to contract with healthcare.gov. Or maybe Indiana isn't really interested in healthcare insurance coverage for Hoosiers.

  3. So, how much did either of YOU contribute? HGH Thank you Mr. Ozdemir for your investments in this city and your contribution to the arts.

  4. So heres brilliant planning for you...build a $30 M sports complex with tax dollars, yet send all the hotel tax revenue to Carmel and Fishers. Westfield will unlikely never see a payback but the hotel "centers" of Carmel and Fishers will get rich. Lousy strategy Andy Cook!

  5. AlanB, this is how it works...A corporate welfare queen makes a tiny contribution to the arts and gets tons of positive media from outlets like the IBJ. In turn, they are more easily to get their 10s of millions of dollars of corporate welfare (ironically from the same people who are against welfare for humans).

ADVERTISEMENT