A trio of investors in the now-shuttered Titan Atlas Global say they’ve lost as much as $2 million in a venture that was supposed to revolutionize homebuilding, and that former CEO Jeremy Blackburn won’t give them access to records that could show how the money disappeared.
The investors made their claims this week in a court case Blackburn filed alleging North Charleston-based Titan owes him unpaid wages. The investors say Blackburn can’t sue for the money because, despite his claims of being a wronged employee, he and his wife controlled the company.
James Lancaster, one of the investors, said in court documents that he and other shareholders have unsuccessfully asked Blackburn to account for “hundreds of undocumented transactions including cash withdrawals, personal expenditures and money transfers” from Titan.
Blackburn did not respond to repeated messages seeking comment. His lawyer, Daniel Boles, said “our response will be contained with whatever filing we make through the court.” Boles said he is aware of the investors’ allegations but has not determined what action to take.
The filings are the latest in a swirl of litigation surrounding Blackburn and companies he and his wife, Mayako Blackburn, ran or controlled.
Jeremy Blackburn currently is overseeing one of North Charleston’s most important redevelopment projects — the renovation of the long-vacant former naval hospital building at Rivers and McMillan avenues. North Charleston officials and one of the building’s owners have said Blackburn has no ownership role in that project.
Titan is not involved in the Naval Hospital redevelopment. The company, which closed last year, made products used in the construction of low-cost, easy-to-build concrete homes. An attempt to build some of those homes in North Charleston’s Joppa Way community ended with partially finished houses and a foreclosure lawsuit from the company that loaned $520,000 for the project.
TAG, as Titan Atlas Global was known, did not file a response to the foreclosure lawsuit and it has been unclear who owns or controls what remains of the company. Utah lawyer Douglas Durbano, a longtime associate and business partner of Blackburn who is an owner in the naval hospital venture, handled TAG’s incorporation, but he said in an email that he has no interest in the business.
A master-in-equity judge on Thursday approved a foreclosure sale of the Joppa Way property. Blackburn had guaranteed the loan, but he won’t have to pay any money because the lender is only seeking to repossess the property.
The investors in the wage lawsuit say Durbano was a partner in TAG along with Jeremy Blackburn’s father, Kimble Blackburn, who could not be reached for comment.
This week, investors Lancaster, an oral surgeon in Fargo, N.D., Ken Calligar, a New York investment manager, and New York investor Michelle Giordano filed answers in Charleston County to Blackburn’s claim that TAG owes him at least $250,000 in unpaid wages and benefits. The three submitted the filings without legal representation.
Those investors say Jeremy and Mayako Blackburn controlled Titan and its finances at all times.
“During the period of its operations — approximately one year — the company received more than $2,000,000 in funds from various sources,” Calligar said in his filing. “With the company under Blackburn’s control, it is now apparent that all these funds were squandered, lost, or stolen.”
Calligar, reached by phone, said the filing speaks for itself and declined to elaborate. Lancaster and Giordano could not be reached for comment.
In her filing, Giordano described Blackburn’s wage claim as “a fabrication and part of a continuing fraud perpetrated by Mr. Blackburn against ourselves and our investments in the company.” She also said that Blackburn’s claims in legal documents of having an employment contract with TAG are false.
Calligar also said he gave Blackburn $120,000 for one of the Joppa Way homes that were never finished, and that Blackburn has refused to refund the money. Calligar’s stated interest in the home was noted during Thursday’s foreclosure hearing, but a default judgment had already been issued and a judge did not consider the claim. The property could be sold as early as June.
The conflicting claims surrounding the ownership of TAG will be important going forward, as creditors including the state government pursue claims against the company. Ownership questions involving some of the same people have been raised in North Charleston’s hospital redevelopment project.
In South Carolina, there is little way to know for sure, because the state does not require limited liability companies to disclose their owners. Such companies can own properties and businesses, and can make political contributions.
Lancaster’s court filing claims that 80 percent of TAG’s ownership stake was held by Blackburn, his wife, his father and Durbano.
Reach David Slade at 937-5552 and David Wren at 937-5550.