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Can “Dance Mom” Star Dance Her Way Out of Bankruptcy Fraud?: Bankruptcy Fraud Basics

By Daniel Hart, Paralegal  and Salene Mazur Kraemer, Esquire.

In October 2015, every Pittsburgh local news outlet and national entertainment magazine reported on the bankruptcy fraud story of Abby Lee Miller.  We have previously written here about her Chapter 11 Case:  “Dance Mom” Instructor Abby Lee Miller Files for Chapter 11 Protection: Public Disclosure of Private Facts:   Abby is the controversial star of the reality television show, “Dance Moms”.  Her often abrasive personality is in contrast to the glitter of dance and beauty of her young dancers.  She is quick to throw scathing insults at any of the children and their sometimes overly zealous Dance mothers.

Abby Lee filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2010, in Bankruptcy Court here in Pittsburgh.  After some television surfing by a local bankruptcy judge and a subsequent investigation by local authorities, Abby may have committed bankruptcy fraud.

What is bankruptcy fraud?  It is a white-collar crime that generally has taken four general forms:

  1. Debtors conceal assets to avoid having to forfeit them;
  2. Individuals intentionally file false or incomplete forms (underreporting income, overstating liabilities);
  3. Individuals file multiple times using false information or real information in several states;
  4. Debtors bribe a court-appointed trustee.

Nearly 70% of all bankruptcy fraud involves the first form, the concealment of assets.  At the 341 meeting of creditors in each bankruptcy case, a debtor is required to testify under oath as to the accuracy of his or her bankruptcy petition and schedules.  A bankruptcy trustee appointed by the United States Department of Justice probes each debtor about the facts and circumstances surrounding each case.

A bankruptcy trustee can only liquidate unexempt assets that are a part of the debtor’s “bankruptcy estate”.  If the asset is not listed on the debtor’s schedules or the debtor does not reveal the asset, it can fly under the radar.

I tell each of my bankruptcy clients always to “tell the truth, reveal everything, err on the side of caution.”  “You don’t want to end up in jail over this filing.”

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The effects of bankruptcy fraud are often passed on to businesses, financial institutions, and the general consumer in the form of higher interest rates, greater loan fees, and higher taxes.

Bankruptcy fraud is a criminal offense.  When a bankruptcy trustee suspects fraud but does not have enough evidence, he/she can compel testimony and document production from just about anyone through a Bankruptcy Rule 2004 examination.  If fraud is suspected, the trustee refers the case to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).  The agency will undergo its own investigation.  A debtor guilty of bankruptcy fraud faces stiff penalties as outlined at 18 U.S.C. §152 which can result in a fine up to $250,000 for each count of fraud, or up to a five-year prison sentence, or both.

Getty Images

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  A  federal grand jury indicted Abby Miller on 20 counts of bankruptcy fraud, alleging she concealed about $755,000 in assets and made false bankruptcy declarations.  Federal Bankruptcy Judge Thomas Agresti nearly approve Miller’s Chapter 11 reorganization plan but then he was channel surfing one night and saw commercials for the new season of “Dance Moms”.  Miller claimed in her bankruptcy reorganization plan that she did not have a signed contract for a new season and that her income from the show was “volatile.”

It is alleged that Abby did in fact, have a signed contract and steady income.  During the past three years while the the bankruptcy proceeding was pending, as required by the Department of Justice for all debtors, Miller was required to deposit her income into a special DIP (Debtor in Possession) account and report that income to the court on a monthly basis.  Instead, it is alleged that she set up other bank accounts and funneled her income from the TV show and other ventures into those accounts.

If found guilty, Abby Lee faces up to five years in prison, not to mention outrageous fines given 20 counts.  The surprising twist in this case is that Abby’s bankruptcy plan, we believe, provided for a 100% payout to unsecured creditors (a rarity); it appears that she would have had no need to hide assets; she was obligated to pay unsecured creditors 100% anyway!  We shall see!

Sources: http://triblive.com/news/adminpage/9263325-74/bankruptcy-miller-prosecutors#axzz3psRPmrWl

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Movie Financier Hedge Fund Files for Chapter 11 Over Increasing Litigation Costs

by Justin A. Saporito, Law Clerk

Aramid Entertainment Fund, Limited filed for Chapter 11 protection in the Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York on June 13, 2014.  Debtor has declared assets of $237.3 million and consolidated debt of $11.5 million.  Debtor was assigned case number 1:14-bk-11802, a judge has yet to be assigned.  Approximately 96 creditors were listed in the petition; among them are several other Aramid entities including Aramid Liquidating Trust, Ltd. and Aramid Entertainment, Inc. which jointly filed with the Debtor and were assigned consecutive case numbers.

aramid-logo-618x400                    Aramid Entertainment Fund, Limited is part of Aramid Capital Partners, LLP, a London based hedge fund that specializes in financing movies.  According to their website, Aramid Capital has provided financing for thirty-two (32) movies including Paranormal Activity, W., and How to Lose Friends & Alienate People.  Please click here for a list of their productions.

                   Debtor filed for Chapter 11 protection due to the cost of ongoing litigation against several of its borrowers who failed to repay loans or violated film-financing agreements.  One such suit began in February 2012 and is over an alleged $44 million in losses.  Debtor invested $22 million in a financing deal between Relativity Media, LLC and Sony Pictures.  Debtor alleges that executives from Fortress Investment Group, LLC used Aramid’s confidential information, which was allegedly obtained during a 2010 portfolio review as part of a proposed purchase of Debtor’s assets, to make a deal with Sony that destroyed Debtor’s investments.

                     Debtor and its affiliates are represented by James C. McCarroll, a partner at Reed Smith, LLP who specializes in Financial Industry, Commercial Restructuring, and Bankruptcy.

NJ Janitorial Firm Bradford and Byrd Tries to Clean House with a Chapter 11

By: Justin A. Saporito, Law Clerk

Bradford & Byrd Associates, Inc. filed for voluntary Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of New Jersey on May 23rd, 2014.  The case has been assigned to the Honorable Christine M. Gravelle under case number 3:14:bk-20478.

b&bmopper400Debtor claims assets of less than $50,000 with liabilities ranging between $500,000 and $1 million.  Among debtor’s 21 creditors are the Internal Revenue Service, New Jersey Department of Labor, New York State Workers Compensation Board, Mercedes Benz, and several other companies and private individuals.  Debtor is represented by Bunce Atkinson of Atkinson & DeBartolo, PC from Red Bank, New Jersey.

Debtor is a janitorial firm that was founded in 1989 and headquartered in Freehold, New Jersey.  Debtor provides janitorial services clients in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Georgia, and North and South Carolina.  Some of debtor’s more notable clients include UPS, the Social Security Administration Headquarters, and Public Service Electric and Gas Company.  In debtor’s more than 20 years in business, it has achieved some noticeable accomplishments including servicing the Statue of Liberty in 1996 and being contracted to clean vintage chandeliers at West Point Military Academy in 2001.

Pittsburgh Riverhounds Stumble as They Declare Chapter 11 Bankruptcy

By:  Justin A. Saporito

The  Riverhounds Event Center, L.P. and Riverhounds Acquisition Group, L.P., the limited partnerships that own and operate Highmark Stadium and the Pittsburgh Riverhounds Professional Soccer Club respectively,  jointly declared voluntary Chapter 11 bankruptcy on March 26, 2014.  Debtors filed in the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, assigned case numbers 2:14-bk-21180 and 2:14-bk-21181 respectively.  Both cases have been assigned to the Honorable Jeffery A. Deller.

The Riverhounds Event Center, L.P. owns and operates the newly constructed Highmark Stadium located in the South Side area of Pittsburgh and claims assets ranging from $1 million to $10 million with liabilities between $10 million and $50 million.  Of those liabilities, $7.2 million is mortgage debt and $1.5 million in bank loans.  riverhounds_logo

The Riverhounds Acquisition Group, L.P. is the limited partnership that owns the Pittsburgh Riverhounds minor league soccer team and claims assets ranging from $500,000 to $1 million with liabilities between $1 million and $10 million.  The Pittsburgh Riverhounds  was founded in 1999 and currently plays in the United Soccer Leagues.  Much of the debt leading up to the bankruptcy was incurred in 2012-2013 during the construction of Highmark Stadium.  The bankruptcy is not expected to affect the 2014 season.

Debtors share some creditors such as Shallenberger Construction, Inc.,  First National Bank of Pennsylvania, and Urban Redevelopment Association of Pittsburgh.  Both debtors are represented by John M. Steiner of Leech Tishman Fuscaldo & Lampl, LLC.

West Virginia’s 2014 Economic Outlook

Weirton Steel, Weirton, WV

Weirton Steel, Weirton, WV

In the beginning of 2014, I was asked by the WV Attorney General’s office to participate in a town hall meeting to discuss issues impacting the WV economy.  As a business and bankruptcy lawyer,  I wanted to do my diligence.  I asked my clients and colleagues what they believed were significant factors.  Here was a punch list of the issues identified by them and those at the town hall meeting:

  • retention and attraction of young talent
  • scarcity of livable downtown spaces in major WV cities, Weirton, Wheeling, Huntington, Charleston, Martinsburg, Morgantown
  • healthcare reform proving costly for new businesses
  • business and Occupancy taxes
  • rampant drug addiction
  • revitalization of old industry to attract new industry.
  • deterioration of main streets
  • oil and gas industry presence.

Prior to the town hall meeting, I also asked Justin Saporito, my law clerk to take to google to research this topic.

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Justin found a 2014 Outlook Report (Report) for WV’s economy, produced by West Virginia University’s College of Business and Economics (one of my alma maters).

The economy of West Virginia has grown steadily over the past year with Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growing by 3.3% over the past year, ranking it tenth (10th) among U.S. states in real GDP growth.  This growth was the result of several factors such as the addition of 3,000 new jobs over the past year, a state unemployment rate that has remained 1% below the national average for the past five years, and increased exports.  Exports accounted for 16% of state economic output in 2012 compared with only 5% in 2000.  The housing and automotive sectors of the economy, important indicators of economic health, have also seen increases.  Home sales in WV are on par with home sales during the 2004-2005 housing boom and auto sales are at pre-recession levels.

According to the report, the key drivers of the economy in 2012 were coal mining, natural gas, healthcare, tourism, electrical power manufacturing, and chemical manufacturing.  The Report predicted that annual job growth would increase in the healthcare services, wholesale and retail trade, construction, and professional and business service sectors every year through 2017.

A shining light for WV’s economy has been the city of Morgantown.  Morgantown boasts an unemployment rate that is 3% below the national average with job growth above the national average with an estimated annual job growth rate of 2% in the coming years.

It is not all good news for WV however as it is ranked 47th among the 50 states in per capita income.  Another major concern is the declining and aging population.  WV’s median age is 5 years above the national average.  Another concern is the state budget, ¼ of which comes from coal tax revenue and lottery revenue.  With coal production predicted to fall through 2017, the state will have to find additional sources of revenue in the coming years. Despite these looming issues, WV is expected to have revenue growth of 3.5% for 2014.

-Justin Saporito

-Salene Kraemer

“Dance Moms” Instructor Abby Lee Miller Files for Chapter 11 Protection: Public Disclosure of Private Facts

By: Justin A. Saporito, MAZURKRAEMER Law Clerk and Salene Mazur Kraemer

Salene’s Preface: I was in Bankruptcy Court last week in Pittsburgh and noticed Abby walking into Court.  (She is a stunning woman by the way and you can understand why she is on TV).  I had to ask myself, “How do I know her?”  I did figure it out pretty quickly.   I was surprised to see her on my turf (that is in the world of commercial bankruptcy) and was not aware that Abby had filed for Ch. 11.  My daughter is a dancer and I watch the show! 

Abigale Lee Miller filed for Chapter 11 relief on January 3rd, 2011.  The petition was filed in the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania under petition number: 10-28606 TPA and has been overseen by the Honorable Judge Thomas P. Agresti.

Debtor is better known as Abby Lee Miller, the host and instructor for the popular Lifetime reality television show Dance Moms.  The show follows a group mothers and their young daughters who are participating in the world of young competitive dance.  The show takes place in Pittsburgh, PA at the debtor’s studio, the Abby Lee Dance Company, and follows the ladies as they travel across the country to various competitions.  Dance Moms is currently holding open casting calls for its 4th season.

dance-moms-banner-85373The Abby Lee Dance Company was formed 27 years ago as a not-for-profit organization and is an audition only program.  It is located at 7123 Saltsburg Road, Pittsburgh, PA, 15235.  Debtor is also the owner of Reign Dance Productions, which shares the building with The Abby Lee Dance Company.

Debtor has declared approximately $325,500 in assets with approximately $356,500 in liabilities.   Thirty-four creditors are listed in the petition, with Chase Mortgage holding the largest unsecured claim in the amount of $50,000.   This debt is the unsecured portion of what appears to be a $200,000 undersecured mortgage on a home of Ms. Miller’s in Florida valued at $150k.   Ms. Miller’s dance studio has a $96,000 mortgage on it; the studio is valued at around $150,000  Ms. Miller owes about $27,000 in back taxes (which are unsecured priority claims).  Her unsecured debt only totals $32,000, many of whom are vendors for her business.

The Second Amended Disclosure Statement was approved on January 18th, 2013 and the Order Approving Disclosure Statement and Scheduling Hearing on Plan Confirmation was entered into on October 21st, 2013.  Please click here to for a copy of the order.  The debtor is represented by Donald R. Calaiaro of Calaiaro & Corbett, P.C.  The Confirmation Hearing to approve her Plan of Reorganization is set for December 12, 2013 at 1:30 p.m. EST.  Please click here for a copy of the Disclosure Statement.  A summary of the Chapter 11 plan can be found here.

Salene’s comment:   We purposefully do not often write blog posts about individual Chapter 11 cases (usually filed by very wealth individuals.  Most folks file a Chapter 7 or Chapter 13).  When a company or person files for bankruptcy,  I warn my clients that you are subjecting yourselves to a “financial autopsy”; you are making a public filing of all of your assets and liabilities.  So, information seekers can look up what your home is worth, what kind of car you drive,  how much credit card debt you have, whether you own a fur coat, how much your wedding ring costs, and whether you have any money in an IRA/401k.  Anyone can see how much money you have made in the last three years and they get to read what your monthly budget is for expenses.   While there are certainly benefits to the privilege of filing for bankruptcy, public disclosure of private facts is certainly one of the drawbacks.

Fairmont General Hospital of Fairmont, WV Files for Chapter 11 Protection

By:  Justin A. Saporito, MAZURKRAEMER Law Clerk

On September 3, 2013 Fairmont General Hospital, Inc. of Fairmont, WV and affiliate company Fairmont Physicians, Inc. (“debtors”) filed voluntary petitions for bankruptcy relief under Chapter 11 of the bankruptcy code with Fairmont General Hospital, Inc. as the lead debtor.  The petitions were filed with the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of West Virginia with the assigned case numbers 1:13-bk-01054 and 1:13-bk-01055 respectively.  The cases were assigned to the Honorable Judge Patrick M. Flatley (who is originally from Salene’s hometown of Weirton by the way) and consolidated (by debtors’ request) under case number 1:13-bk-01054.

fghThe Debtors’ Chapter 11 Plan and Disclosure Statement are due by January 2, 2014.  Schedules A-J were originally due on September 17, 2013 as were a Statement of Financial Affairs, Statement of Operations, Federal Income Tax Return, and other filings.  (Please see the docket summary for a complete list of due filings.)  At the time of filing, the debtors made multiple motions including motions to extend the time before the required Schedules and other would become due, maintain existing financial institutions and practices, pay pre-filing debts and obligations, and maintain utility services.  All of these motions were granted.  For a complete breakdown of the case please refer to the docket summary.  The Meeting of Creditors has been set for Thursday, October 31, 2013 at 10:00 AM.

Fairmont General Hospital (FGH) is a private, non-profit, community hospital that was originally founded in 1939.  FGH offers a variety of health services including surgical, rehabilitation, mental health, wellness/testing, emergency services, and more.   For a complete list of the services they offer please click here.

The debtors claim assets and liabilities between $10 and $50 million.  Notably, the debtors are currently seeking a strategic partner to take over its facility.  The debtors are represented by Rayford K. Adams, III of Spilman, Thomas, & Battle, PLLC.   Spilman, Thomas, & Battle, PLLC has seven offices spread across West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and North Carolina with three of their offices located in West Virginia.

Fat Lady May Sing for the Last Time: The New York City Opera Files Chapter 11

By:  Justin A. Saporito, MAZURKRAEMER Law Clerk and Salene Mazur Kraemer, Owner

New York City Opera, Inc. filed a petition for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on October 3rd, 2013.  The petition was filed in the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York.  The case was assigned to the Honorable Judge Stuart M. Bernstein under case # 1:13-bk-13240.  Among the motions filed with the petition was a motion to authorize debtor to refund pre-paid tickets.  Please click here for a docket summary.

New York City Opera, Inc. was dubbed “The People’s Opera” by former NYC Mayor new_york_city_opera_zoom945Fiorello LaGuardia.  It has hosted and performed traditional and contemporary operas since its founding in 1943.  Debtor filed for Chapter 11 protection due to a projected $44.1 million deficit for 2012 and a combination of a troubled economy, decreased donations, and increasing pension obligations.  The debtor raised approximately $1.5 million from an online fund-raising campaign (Kickstarter), but required $7 million by the end of September in order to fund itself through the end of the year.  The board and management have begun necessary financial and operational steps to wind down the company with no plans to borrow in order to fund the 2014 season.

Debtor claims assets and liabilities of between $1 and $10 million and 93 creditors including New York City Ballet, Inc. and the New York City Dept. of Finance.  Please refer to the docket summary for a complete list of creditors.  The debtor is represented by Kenneth A. Rosen and Nicole Stefanelli of Lowenstein Sandler LLP.

Debtor's Attorney Nicole Stefanelli


Salene and NYC Opera Debtor’s Attorney Nicole Stefanelli

Salene had the privilege of hanging out with Nicole over the weekend in NYC.   Nicole and Salene had met at the American Bankruptcy Institute this past Spring.  They were also friends via Twitter.   Nicole said that this Chapter 11 filing has been published in newspapers all over the world.  She also said that her firm was doing the representation PRO BONO.  She will be handling first day motions on Thursday!

This will definitely be an interesting case to watch.

New Jersey Residential Developer Hovbilt, Inc. Seeks Chapter 11 Relief

By:  Justin A. Saporito, MAZURKRAEMER Law Clerk and Salene Mazur Kraemer, Owner

bank. court of nj seal                Hovbilt, Inc. filed a voluntary petition for bankruptcy relief under Chapter 11 of the bankruptcy code on September 17th, 2013.  The case was filed in the Bankruptcy Court of New Jersey and the case was assigned to the Honorable Judge Michael B. Kaplan under case number 3:13-bk-30341.  For a summary of the docket please click here.

Debtor claims assets between $0 and $50,000 with liabilities of $1 to $10 million.  In its petition, it lists 10 creditors including Home Depot and Sovereign Bank.  (Please see the docket summary for a complete list of creditors.)  Sovereign Bank filed for a Notice of Appearance and Request for Service of Notice by its duly appointed counsel in response to Debtor’s voluntary petition for Chapter 11 relief.  The petition, as filed, was incomplete and the Attorney Disclosure Statement, Statement of Financial Affairs, Summary of Schedules, and Incomplete Filings are due by October 1st, 2013.

This Chapter 11 Debtor’s exclusive right to file a plan of reorganization expires on January 15, 2014.

CHAPTER 11 DEBTOR TIP: Every Chapter 11 Debtor should know that upon the commencement of a chapter 11 case, Bankruptcy Code section 1121 gives a debtor-in-possession (“DIP”) the exclusive right to file a plan of reorganization for 120 days (4 months).  The DIP also has the exclusive right to solicit acceptances (votes) for a plan filed within that 120-day period until 180 days (6 months) after filing for chapter 11.  (A debtor may file a plan but creditors may not actually vote on the plan until an accompanying approved Disclosure Statement and set of ballots are served).  No competing plans may be filed during this period of exclusivity.  A creditor, a creditors’ committee, or another special interest committee may be one of the parties filing a competing plan.   Sometimes various parties join together to file a “jointly proposed” competing plan.  See helpful article regarding exclusivity written by Salene’ brother-in-law’s fine law firm Jones Day.

This Debtor is a property developer specializing in residential housing developments located at 1 Dag Hammarskjold Blvd. Freehold, NJ 07728.  Hovilt, Inc. was established in 1969 as a private company categorized as a speculative building of single-family houses and primarily operated in Monmouth and Ocean Counties in New Jersey. (source)

Debtor is represented by James G. Aaron of Ansell Grimm and Aaron PC located at 1500 Lawrence Avenue CN 7807 Ocean, NJ 07712.

Chapter 11 Debtors Beware: Do Not Fail to Pay Quarterly Fees Owed to the U.S. Trustee

By:  Justin Saporito, Law Clerk and Salene Mazur Kraemer, Owner

U.S. DOJ seal

What fees are associated with filing a Chapter 11 case? Aside from payment of attorneys’ fees (which can be steep), there are filing fees and ongoing quarterly administrative fees.

For a chapter 11 case, quarterly fees must be paid to the U.S. Trustee each quarter, or fraction thereof, until that case is closed, dismissed, or converted.  These fees are in addition to the filing fee that must be paid by the debtor.  The amount owed by the debtor is based upon the amount of disbursements made during the quarter starting at a minimum of $325 with a maximum of $30,000.  (Complete breakdown of quarterly fees w/ instructions.)   Again we repeat, there is a minimum payment of at least $325 a quarter.   If significant assets are sold, a debtor may be looking at a quarterly fee up to $13,000 or even $30,000 to be made payable to the U.S. Trustee’s office.  The fee schedule is uniform for all Federal Judicial Districts that are a part of the U.S. Trustee Program which includes all Federal Judicial Districts except for Alabama and North Carolina.

Quarterly fee bills are mailed to the debtor by the U.S. Trustee at the end of each quarter with instructions on how to determine the amount of fees owed.  These fees are due on the last day of the calendar month following the calendar quarter.  The minimum fee is due even if no disbursements were made that quarter and failure to pay a quarterly fee is cause for conversion or dismissal of the chapter 11 case.  Failure to receive an invoice does not excuse the obligation to timely pay U.S. Trustee’s fees.  Debtor’s counsel should contact the Office of the U.S. Trustee If a quarterly bill is not received, unless counsel for the debtor has executed an authorization allowing the U.S. Trustee to discuss the issue of quarterly fees with the debtor.

For payments made by check, the payment is converted to an electronic funds transfer (EFT).  This means that the account information will be copied from the check to electronically debit the debtor’s account for the amount of the check.  The debit usually occurs within 24 hours after which the original check is destroyed.  A copy of the check will be made by the U.S. Trustee’s Office however.  If the EFT cannot be process due to technical reasons, the debtor authorizes the U.S. Trustee’s Office to process the copy in place of the original check.  If the EFT cannot be completed due to insufficient funds, two more attempts to make the transfer may be made.

TIPS FOR THE CHAPTER 11 DEBTOR:  Payment of these U.S. Trustees fees is important.  The U.S. Trustee is an agent of the Department of Justice.  He or she is a lawyer who plays a critical and influential role in every Chapter 11 Case (more on this later).  Do not overlook paying these fees or responding to any requests made by a U.S. Trustee.   If a Debtor ignores such requests or fails to pay U.S. Trustee fees, the Debtor can almost be certain that a Motion to Dismiss the Case or Convert the Chapter 11 Case to  Chapter 7 Case (liquidation) will be forthcoming.