Texas investor in old Grand Station cost man his job

Published 11:13 am Monday, July 7, 2014

Texas-based investors who pursued racketeering claims against former partners in a botched deal to purchase the former Grand Station Casino in Vicksburg cost a man his job in the process, according to another round of litigation involving the mishmash of companies.

Ron Lewis, one of nine groups and individual investors sued earlier this year in federal court by parts of four entities who once tried to buy the defunct casino, lost his job in the energy industry as a result of the claims by “shell” companies headed by Richard Sterritt, according to briefs filed in the past week in Warren County Circuit Court.

Lewis, a nuclear engineer with Southern Company, which provides power to customers in parts of Mississippi, Alabama, Florida and Georgia, was terminated in January when his being named a defendant in the federal case cost him his security clearance and is now unemployed, according to the new lawsuit. The case has yet to be assigned to a judge.

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In January, AGT Capital LLC had sued M Street Investments Inc. in a case that, in effect, tried to stop the sale of the casino’s adjacent hotel. The company had sued as an assignee and successor in interest to Alexandra Trust and Avondale Shipyards Inc., two minor investors in M Street. All three entities are defendants in the new case and headed by Richard Sterritt, a Texas businessman who served nearly three years in federal prison in the early 2000s for securities fraud, money laundering and filing false income tax returns. M Street had tried to buy the casino vessel from bankruptcy. Terms of the closing weren’t met and the boat was auctioned for scrap in April 2013.

In May, the suit was thrown out of federal court and the Mulberry Street facility has since reopened as Portofino Hotel.

In this latest case, plaintiffs M Street, Lewis, Great Southern Investment Group, NIT Management and Brett Maverick Ventures L.P. seek unspecified damages to cover damages and other costs associated with a separate legal action Sterritt took in 2013 to put a cloud on the hotel property. The hotel’s new ownership, Vicksburg Hotel LLC, then sued Sterritt’s companies in federal court, claiming the lis pendens was improperly filed. A trial date on that matter was set for Feb. 17, 2015.

Other defendants in the new case include Sarah Ester Sterritt, named as a co-trustee of Alexandra Trust, and David Virgil Dafinoiu, registered agent for AGT. The plaintiffs say AGT was formed solely for the purpose of suing the other investors and, thus, is guilty of “champerty”, which refers to one entity buying into another party’s lawsuit in exchange for money and/or services.

Also, the groups argue any money awarded to companies controlled by Sterritt is subject to forfeiture, as he hasn’t satisfied more than $13 million in restitution and penalties stemming from the fraud case that put him behind bars.

Investment dollars from the pursuit in 2011-12 of the casino by the Texas groups extended to making plays for other properties in downtown Vicksburg, most notably 1311 Bar & Grill on Washington Street. The operation of the nightspot spawned litigation of its own in June. Seth Thomson, a former manager, seeks more than $63,000 in back pay and other damages from The Vick Group Inc., which operates the business, according to briefs filed in U.S. District Court in Jackson.