There’s no question that the name Trump has a certain allure in real estate circles. But it is that brand that got a former NBA basketball into deep trouble.
Tate George, a 6-foot-5 guard who was the 22nd draft pick (by the New Jersey Nets) in the first round of the 1990 draft, thought a couple of guys he met were Trump proteges.
So when they presented him with what was described as a “can’t-miss” opportunity, he not only jumped at the chance, he persuaded several of his pro basketball buddies and others to invest with him.
The deal eventually went south. George’s investors demanded their money back, and he was sent to prison for running a real estate Ponzi scheme.
Now, from his prison cell at Fort Dix in Trenton, New Jersey, where he is serving a nine-year sentence, George is suing the two defendants to recoup the thousands he and his investors poured into what he says was portrayed to him as a Trump-associated real estate development.
The Trump Organization is not part of the suit. “There may have been some historical connection” between Trump and the two defendants, Michael Ejekam and Jody Kriss, “but not to the level George and his investors were being pitched,” says the ex-ballplayer’s attorney, Sean Mack of Pashman, Stein, Walder and Hayden in Hackensack.
George, who started his own realty development firm in 2000 after his eight-year pro career came to an end, met Ejekam through a mutual acquaintance at Goldman Sachs. At the time, according to the suit, Ejekam represented himself as someone who played a leading role in numerous Tramp-branded projects.
And Ejekam introduced George to Kriss, a New York City developer, who was described as a Trump consultant.
Soon thereafter, the two told George about an investment opportunity in Glenview, Illinois, near Chicago, and he “leapt” at the chance to do business with people “he considered experts in the luxury real estate market field.”
The suit alleges that “Ejekam represented that this was a low-risk opportunity, as he already had a builder on board…and had a buyer lined up.”
“Ejekam only needed funding to be held in escrow to help with the closing, which would be repaid from a construction loan,” the suit maintains. “Ejekam instructed George to tout Ejekam’s connections to Donald Trump as a way to add legitimacy to the project and lure investors to the deal.”
‘No involvement whatsoever’
George brought three investors to the deal. All four believed Ejekam and Kriss were affiliated with Trump, “even though Trump and the Trump Organization had no involvement whatsoever.” That belief, the suit says, was buoyed by frequent references to the developer who would become the 45th president of the United States.
Initially, two of George’s investors wired $50,000 to the George Group to be held in trust.
And at Ejekam’s urging, they authorized George to release $19,000 of their investments to Ejekam to close on the Illinois property.
$2.5M ordered in restitution
Fast forward four months, during which time they became “frustrated with delays and complete lack of progress,” the suit says the investors instructed George to ask Ejekam to return the balance of their funds. But, the suit alleges Ejekam refused.
Geroge repaid his investors “most of what they had invested” and continued to press Ejekam for their money, the suit says. The investors filed a civil suit against Ejekam for what they were still owed. But in 2011, George was arrested by federal authorities on charges related to the Illinois deal “as well as other projects,” the suit says.
According to prosecutors in that case, George, who was convicted on four counts of wire fraud and ordered to pay $2.5 million in restitution, bilked his investors out of several hundred thousand dollars. They said he lied about his company’s assets and projects, took their money and used it for personal reasons and to pay off earlier investors.
The charges against Ejekam and Kriss
In his suit, George charges Ejekam and Kriss with fraud, breach of contract, negligent misrepresentation and unjust enrichment and seeks compensatory damages plus whatever relief the court deems equitable. No specific monetary amounts are mentioned.
This is not George’s first try at suing the two defendants. An earlier action filed on his own in 2015 was withdrawn, according to attorney Mack.
At this time, Mack says his firm is attempting to serve Ejekam and Kriss. But serving Ejekam will prove to be difficult. At about the time George was arrested, he fled to his native Nigeria, where he not only continues to reside — according to the suit, he also has been working there as a real estate developer.
Lew Sichelman’s weekly column, “The Housing Scene,” is syndicated to newspapers throughout the country.