More than 100 Grand Strand residents who rent homes from Hart Realty & Property Management will have to file claims with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Charleston if they want to get back their security deposits, and the trustee in charge of the company’s bankruptcy liquidation is investigating embezzlement allegations against an office manager accused of stealing $222,000 from the company’s bank accounts.
Hart Realty & Property Management filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection in April after owner Christopher Hart said he discovered most of the company’s money was missing.
Pamelin Nettleton, the company’s office manager, is accused of taking the money in an incident report Hart filed in March with the Horry County Police Department.
Nettleton did not return telephone calls seeking comment and no charges have been filed against her. Horry County police Sgt. Robert Kegler said the embezzlement claims are being investigated by detectives in the property crimes division.
Kevin Campbell, the trustee in the bankruptcy case, also has asked a judge for permission to hire special counsel to investigate the embezzlement claims.
“The debtor’s principal, Mr. Hart, has indicated there was embezzlement and I will be investigating that,” Campbell said in an e-mail to The Sun News. “It is too early to comment at this time, however.”
Hart told police that he was in the process of selling his business to a company in Charlotte, N.C., and noticed the money was missing when he went to transfer the bank accounts to the new owner. Nettleton, who had worked for the company for five years, was the only person besides Hart and his wife who had access to the bank accounts and Nettleton kept all of the financial records, according to the police report.
Hart told police that he confronted Nettleton about the missing money, and she denied taking it. Hart said he fired Nettleton on Feb. 29.
Hart told police that he tried to look at the financial records on Nettleton’s computer, but the files had been erased. He has been working with TD Bank to trace the money, which “was spread out all over when it was withdrawn from the accounts,” the incident report states.
Hart believes the money could have been stolen over a period of years, according to the police report, although $30,000 had been taken during the first quarter of this year.
Hart told The Sun News last week that he has provided police with three years worth of bank records. He said the missing money has ruined his business but “I won’t know the full extent of this until after the bankruptcy is finalized.”
Most of the missing money was from a bank account that held renters’ security deposits. The company’s bankruptcy filing shows 146 people are owed security deposits totaling $200,239. Each deposit ranges from $600 to $3,900, depending on the type of property.
In addition, there are 163 property owners who are owed an undetermined amount of money, according to the bankruptcy filing. Those property owners – who are spread throughout the country and in Europe – hired Hart Realty & Property Management to rent out their Myrtle Beach area homes.
The security deposits are considered unsecured priority claims, which means the renters are in line ahead of the owners if any money is recovered by the trustee. However, there is no guarantee that any money will be available for creditors.
“Once the case has been fully administered by me, that is we have collected all possible money, I will disburse that money according to the statutory order of things,” Campbell said. “That is to the costs of the administration of the estate; then to creditors having priority claims, to the extent that there is money to pay them; and then to unsecured creditors, to the extent there is money to pay them.”
The court will send notices to all creditors in the coming weeks with instructions on how to file a claim, Campbell said.
The bankruptcy filing shows Hart Realty & Property Management had few assets remaining after the bank accounts were drained. The company has about $29,000 remaining in nine separate bank accounts as well as $1,860 in utility deposits.
Exotic dancer sues cabaret
The owners of Tiffany’s Cabaret – an adult entertainment nightclub at 132 April Gray Lane off U.S. 501 near Myrtle Beach – are being sued by a former exotic dancer who claims the owners forced her to work without pay, failed to deduct taxes from her pay, illegally took kickbacks from her tips and made her pay for her own costumes, according to a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Buffalo, N.Y.
The class-action lawsuit was filed in New York because that is where owners David Scrivani and Dominic Scrivani live and operate two other Tiffany’s nightclubs. However, dancers at the Myrtle Beach location could take part in the lawsuit once the class is certified by a federal judge.
The Scrivanis could not be reached for comment and a spokesman at one of their New York nightclubs said they would not be commenting on the lawsuit. The Scrivanis have not filed an answer to the lawsuit.
Dan Getman – the New York lawyer representing dancer Christy Brown, who also goes by the name “Leah” – said in the Fair Labor Standards Act lawsuit that the Scrivanis misclassify their dancers as independent contractors so they won’t have to pay them minimum wage or overtime. Getman wants a judge to award the dancers an unspecified amount for unpaid wages and other damages.
The lawsuit states that Brown worked for the Scrivanis from February 2010 to February 2012. Brown claims that she and other dancers were forced to pay a $10-per-night “house fee” in order to work at the nightclubs. Dancers also were required to share with bouncers, disc jockeys and managers any tips they made while dancing on stage or in private, VIP rooms. Brown said she and other dancers were not given a W-2 or Form-1099 to document their pay and no Social Security, employment, workers’ compensation or other required taxes were paid.
The case will be heard by federal Judge William Skretny.
Court rules against woman who tumbled off balcony
The state Supreme Court this month affirmed a lower court’s ruling in a personal injury lawsuit filed by a woman who fell or jumped from an eighth-floor balcony while intoxicated.
Lisa Everitt Lomonaco sued The Myrtle Beach Resort Homeowners’ Association Inc. in 2008 over injuries she sustained while staying at the resort property. Circuit Court Judge Benjamin Culbertson granted a summary judgment in favor of the resort after testimony showed Lomonaco was intoxicated at the time she either fell or jumped from a balcony.
Lomonaco appealed the decision to the S.C. Supreme Court, which affirmed Culbertson’s ruling. The state Supreme Court pointed to a 1998 case – Tobias vs. Sports Club Inc. – as precedent. In that case, an intoxicated man who suffered injuries while driving a vehicle sued the person who loaned him the car. The court ruled in that case that “public policy is not served by allowing the intoxicated adult patron to maintain a suit for injuries which result from his [or her] own conduct.”
Contact DAVID WREN at 626-0281.