Saturday, January 23, 2016
The majority investors in the New York Wheel are moving to put its original developer in the ejector seat. Meir Laufer, who had the original vision for the Staten Island project, has filed for an injunction to stop Joseph Nakash, Andrew Ratner, Jay Anderson and Lloyd Goldman — who together form Wheel Estate LLC — from ousting him as chairman of the wheel’s board of directors. That’s according to documents filed in State Supreme Court Thursday.
The maneuver follows months of the Wheel Estate partners fighting Laufer and Eric Kaufman, who both say they have been sidelined from the project. In a board meeting Jan. 7, wheel CEO Rich Marin allegedly informed board members that statements made by Laufer as part of his defense in a public legal battle between the investors were “against the best interests” of the company and hurt the wheel’s ability to raise funds.
The battle dates back to August, when Wheel Estate LLC asked a judge to approve reducing Laufer’s equity stake in the project to just 11.08 percent and Kaufman’s stake to just 1.08 percent. They said Laufer and Kaufman had been unable to pony up the funds to meet several capital calls to the board. Laufer responded by saying the capital calls violated the terms of the wheel’s operating agreement and accused the other investors of sidelining him in part due to his Hasidic background, which his partners supposedly said was bad for business. These “public disclosures” from Laufer caused “questions from lenders” as well as from existing investors and future investors, Marin is alleged to have told board members earlier this month.
The board allegedly informed Laufer of its intention to vote him out as chairman Jan. 11. In the letter, the board accused Laufer of “fraud, gross negligence or willful misconduct” but did not specify the exact offenses. On Jan. 19, Laufer tapped JAMS, the arbitration and mediation service, to help the parties work out their differences, according to court documents, but requires an injunction to prevent his ouster in the interim. Laufer’s attorney, Kenneth Rubinstein, was not immediately available for comment.
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