Riverdale suing marina owners, alleging fraud
By Casey Toner firstname.lastname@example.org October 31, 2012 1:12PM
Updated: December 2, 2012 2:06PM
Felon John Thomas went to a Riverdale Village Board meeting in February, claiming he would restore the Riverdale Marina to its former glory, and promising there would be a safe environment there under his watch.
Nine months later, the village claims in a lawsuit filed Wednesday in Cook County Circuit Court that Thomas and his partner schemed to defraud the village of $900,000.
The lawsuit seeks repayment of the funds that the village gave to marina developer Nosmo Kings, which estimated that an overhaul of the property could cost as much as $5.5 million. Thomas and his partner, Michael Griffith, are identified in the lawsuit as owners of Nosmo Kings, which received money from the village through a special taxing district used to rehab blighted properties.
An attorney for Nosmo Kings could not be reached for comment, but Thomas, a felon who wore a wire in the Tony Rezko case, said he would countersue the village for discrimination.
The village filed a separate lawsuit seeking ownership of the property because the marina’s restaurant, the Dixie Star, closed about a month ago. The Illinois Secretary of State’s office involuntarily dissolved Nosmo Kings in August, according to state records.
“It’s a shame,” Riverdale Trustee Richard Nolan said. “We invested money into it and it didn’t turn out right and we need to do what we need to do to recoup those funds.”
Despite the lawsuits, Thomas said Wednesday night he wasn’t about to give up the waterfront property.
“The village is (bleeping) ridiculous,” he said about the lawsuit. “They have no right to take the marina. I will never lose that marina. I’m never selling the marina. I’m going to own it for 20 years — no, 40 years.”
Thomas said he planned to file a $25 million civil rights lawsuit against Riverdale, claiming he was discriminated against because he is white and all of the village officials are black. He also said the Dixie Star restaurant would reopen under a new restaurant owner by week’s end.
The lawsuits against Nosmo Kings, along with debt claims, are clouding the marina’s future. Fox Valley Fire and Safety, of Elgin, and Gallas Construction, of Lockport, claimed in May that Nosmo Kings never paid them $64,000 for work they did, according to records filed with the Cook County Recorder of Deeds.
Sensible Heat A/C, Polsky and Associates, Berstein Law, US Foods, and Polar Ice Systems also have filed lawsuits against Thomas or Nosmo Kings in relation to the marina, claiming they are owed a total of about $176,500.
The SouthtownStar previously reported that an accounting report paid for by the village showed that Nosmo Kings submitted about $1.8 million in project-related expenses to the village — about $1.2 million short of what the company had agreed to spend on the marina to receive any taxpayer money at all.
Among other things, the report found that about $647,000 of the submitted expenses were ineligible for reimbursement, lacked supporting documentation or were not specifically associated with the project.
A SouthtownStar analysis of records showed that more than $13,000 in merchandise from The Home Depot that an Orland Park contractor claimed was for the marina was shipped to houses in Maywood, Harvey and Riverdale. It’s uncertain whether those purchases made it to the marina.
The goods included power tools, a bathtub with massage jets, residential gas and electric stoves, refrigerators, a washer and dryer and several water heaters. In one case, more than $1,000 in appliances was shipped to a Riverdale rental home owned by the contractor’s brother.
The lawsuit also alleges that Nosmo Kings leased out the property without the village’s approval.
Calvin Hollins, of Chicago, said his company — Hollins Ltd — leased the restaurant in August. Hollins previously owned the E2 nightclub in Chicago where 21 people were killed in a stairwell stampede in 2003 as they rushed to leave after someone used pepper spray to break up a fight.
When Hollins took over the Dixie Star restaurant, he said the employees hadn’t been paid in weeks and the business was thousands of dollars in debt.
Hollins quit on Sept. 24, claiming cash was being taken out of the restaurant’s coffers without his approval.
Thomas claimed, according to police, that it was Hollins and his son who took the money, putting bags over the security cameras and removing $13,000 in cash and about $5,000 worth of liquor from the business prior to their departure. Hollins denied taking any cash, but claimed the liquor he took was his.
Riverdale police said they aren’t investigating the incident because it is a civil matter.
“It was a total disaster,” Hollins said. “It was a disaster that could have had enormous potential.”
Initially, the village tried to strike a bargain with Thomas to repay the money, according to documents obtained by the SouthtownStar. Attorney Burt Odelson, whose firm represents Riverdale, said time expired on the deal.
“You can only wait so long,” Odelson said. “You have a piece of property that’s sitting vacant. The business has to get open and be vital.”
Riverdale Mayor Deyon Dean said in a news release that the village once had “high expectations” that Nosmo Kings would redevelop the marina and restaurant. He also wrote that the village wants another developer and restaurant owner to take over the property.