A recent $400,000 settlement between aggrieved investors and developer M. “Shi” Shailendra is one in a series of legal moves untangling a knotted skein of lawsuits involving millions of dollars in claims against the prominent Indian businessman and community leader.
“All of these cases are going away; we’re getting Mr. Shailendra out of the litigation business,” said William Bird, who represents Shailendra along with Bird Law Group colleagues Jennifer Jordan and Amy Hadra.
Over the past several months, a half-dozen suits filed in Fulton County courts have either been settled or dismissed without prejudice, most of them involving the same group of former Shailendra investors.
“This was a business divorce; both sides wanted to no longer do business with one another,” Bird said, blaming his client’s troubles on “the most significant real estate crash we’ve ever seen,” and “the same cast of characters filing multiple lawsuits.”
Fellows & LaBriola partner Henry Fellows Jr., who filed the recently settled case and two others along with partner Steven Kushner, confirmed that all of their Shailendra-linked cases have been “amicably resolved.”
“Appropriate settlement disposition pleadings have been filed and are being filed in the cases,” said Fellows.
The fountain of litigation began erupting in 2009 when several multimillion-dollar real estate projects in Georgia and Florida ran into trouble, spurring suits by several investors who said Shailendra had cheated them of money and funneled millions into his pockets and those of his family members. Some of those same investors have also been named as Shailendra’s co-defendants in suits filed by banks and lending institutions trying to recover their own funds.
In April, a California jury swatted Shailendra’s former law firm, Holland & Knight, with a $34.5 million legal malpractice verdict when three former investors claimed the firm favored Shailendra’s interests over their own and did not realize a former H&K partner was not serving as their counsel.
That verdict is on appeal.
The recent settlement involves claims by investors Bhagwan and Tripta Dass, who sued Shailendra, his wife, Kiran, and an affiliated company, Shi Investments Six LLC, claiming that they had given Shailendra $500,000 in 2008 to invest in Shi Six.
Instead of investing the funds, the complaint said the defendants converted the money to their own use. In mid-2009, it said, the Dasses received a “confidential Private Placement Memorandum and Subscription Agreement.”
Bhagwan Dass completed and signed the agreement, but, having “not received any evidence of an investment or ownership interest in Shi Six from any of the Shailendra defendants,” the Dasses demanded the return of their money.
In July 2010, two checks from the Shailendras for $250,000 bounced; the only refund they received was a $50,000 wire transfer in February 2011.
The suit, filed in March 2011, alleged counts including breach of contract, money had and received, conversion and fraudulent inducement, and sought the return of the $450,000 plus interest “at the highest rate allowed by law,” as well as attorney fees and punitive damages.
In July 2012, Fulton County State Court Judge Jay Roth referred the case to mediation in Fulton County’s Office of Alternative Dispute Resolution. On Aug. 28, Roth signed a consent order under which the defendants agreed to pay $400,000 in quarterly installments ranging from $50,000 to $200,000 between September 2012 and June 2013. If they fail to pay on time, the order mandates that the sum will increase to $475,000.
“[The Dasses] agreed to less than their original investment,” said Bird. “He had offered to reimburse them, and they ended up settling for less.”
Last year, Bird and his firm took over all of the Fulton County cases from Shailendra’s former attorneys, Simon Bloom of the Bloom Firm and Knight Johnson partner James Johnson, who referred all questions to Bird.
That case is Dass v. Shailendra, No. 11EV012088.
Five other cases centering on the developer filed in 2010 and 2011 in Fulton County Superior Court have pitted Shailendra and the same group of investors — including those who prevailed in the California legal malpractice case — against each other and, in some cases, their lenders.
In July three individuals — Rahim Sabadia, his wife, Nafees El Batool, and his brother-in-law Ishtiaq Khan — and the family trusts they control dismissed a suit against Shailendra without prejudice, leaving open their option to re-file in the future.
Shailendra, in turn, dismissed a countersuit he had filed the same day in January 2011.
In June, American Arbitration Association arbitrator Edward Dobbs ordered Shailendra to pay $2.9 million plus $250,000 in damages in a case brought by Shi Investments One LLC, an investment concern that included Sabadia and Batool and their family trusts, among others. In July, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Jerry Baxter entered a satisfaction of judgment order.
The plaintiffs’ lawyers in that case, Schreeder, Wheeler & Flint partners John Christy and Scott McAlpine, also represented Khan as the sole shareholder of a company, 21 14th Street One-Third LCC, that owned one-third of a building housing a Midtown Starbucks on 14 Street. That suit, which accused Shailendra of diverting hundreds of thousands of dollars from a partnership, settled in May as the parties prepared for trial.
Another suit Khan filed was dismissed without prejudice last September.
Three suits in federal court remain active. All were filed by the Bank of the Ozarks and involve promissory notes, and include Shailendra as either sole or co-defendant.
Asked to account for the sudden surge in settlements in the investor suits, Bird said the explanation is simple: “Trial dates.”
“I think one of the other matters is that they had an expert witness who had been involved, but who was not disclosed until recently,” Bird said. “She ended up being excluded. I think the sanctions may have played a role in their settling.”
Bird said Shailendra, 60, is still very much engaged in his development projects, and is happy to be moving forward.
“He’s glad to be rid of these anchors,” said Bird. “He’s a developer, and he has tried to be a friend.”