...On March 14 and March 29, 2003, Ben & Jerry’s co-founder Jerry Greenfield, Oberlin College class of ‘73, executed two $20,000 promissory notes to Phil B. Davis, Phil the Fire’s flamboyant proprietor, at prime plus 200 basis points, collateralized by an equity stake in Phil the Fire. Mr. Davis, a former deodorant salesman, failed to make a single payment on the bargain-rate loans. On October 31, 2003, the well-heeled ice cream czar and the wannabe waffle king consummated a Halloween wing-and-a-prayer loan consolidation through a $100,000 line of credit issued by Shore Bank. Mr. Davis subsequently defaulted on every facet of the original loans.
According to Cuyahoga County Court records, Phil the Fire’s tax returns, prepared by leading public accounting firm SS & G, show a loss of nearly $50,000 in 2002. In an amended July 19, 2004, brief attached to the extensive litigation spawned by Phil the Fire’s demise, Phil B. Davis declares on line #93, "Defendant never claimed that the operations of Phil the Fire on Shaker Square had yielded a profit after its first year of operations." The Ohio Department of Taxation affixed eight liens totaling $69,555.63 to Phil the Fire’s Shaker Square carcass. The Ohio Bureau of Workers Compensation weighed in with unpaid claims of $7,265.37.
Mr. Davis’ Shaker Square operation inherited the retail storefront formerly occupied by Hungarian strudel purveyor Lucy’s Sweet Surrender, a 49-year Buckeye neighborhood fixture employing a bevy of elderly, veteran strudel kneaders. On assuming the balance of Lucy’s ten-year lease, Mr. Davis seized $75,000 in specialized bakery equipment belonging to Lucy’s proprietor Michael Feigenbaum. Lucy’s never fully recovered and, according to Mr. Feigenbaum’s Hotel Bruce web posting, is "living on fumes."
On Sunday, March 26, 2006, the Cleveland Plain Dealer ran a front-page expose detailing the implosion of both the Shaker Square and downtown Phil the Fire and Waterhouse Restaurants, established with the financial backing of fugitive Atlanta hedge fund manager Kirk Wright. I, not any member of this body [Oberlin City Council], was the original source for that story.
Wanted on state and federal mail and securities fraud warrants for allegedly absconding with $185 million in investor assets, Wright targeted novice minority investors, particularly professional athletes with significant discretionary income. Equipped, according to the New York Post, with "a materialistic streak that would make Madonna blush," Wright’s illicitly acquired auto collection included a Bentley, a Jaguar, an Aston Martin, a BMW and a Lamborghini. A March 9, 2006, Wall Street Journal article reported Mr. Wright’s financial seductions occurred in "suites he rented at Atlanta Falcon football games." Since February 2002, SCA’s financial patron, Home Depot co-founder Arthur Blank, has owned the Atlanta Falcons. According to Phil B. Davis’ Cuyahoga County court filings, Davis "met twice with Wright in Plaintiff’s Atlanta office."
In a short, tumultuous five-month life-span, Phil the Fire’s illiquid downtown Cleveland gravy train racked up well in excess of a million dollars in unpaid debts and forfeitures — including over $15,000 in Ohio workers compensation liens — was on a C.O.D. basis with vendors and, according to Phil Davis’ July 28, 2004, court filings, had a chronic negative cash flow. Channel 19 reporter Scott Taylor ran an investigative piece broadcast March 14, 2004, on Phil the Fire Gateway’s imminent meltdown. On March 23, 2004, the IRS slapped a $226,259 tax lien on Phil the Fire for failure to pay federal withholding taxes. On April 15, 2004, Phil the Fire employees picketed outside the swank downtown eatery to protest their untendered paychecks. Although Phil Davis’ initial capital contribution to the Gateway Phil the Fire restaurant was a nominal $100, as set forth in the operating agreement, Mr. Davis retained a 60% ownership stake. On March 31, 2004, as the downtown Phil the Fire hemorrhaged cash and the chickens came home to roost, Mr. Davis borrowed $20,000, via a promissory note, from Phil the Fire’s talented chef, Alexander Daniels. Despite receiving $50,000 from Mr. Wright on April 26, 2004, in an impetuous, global out-of-court settlement, Mr. Davis defaulted on the bulk ($15,000) of Mr. Daniels’ unsecured loan and a contracted $11,000 culinary consultant’s fee...
...In a June 26, 1994, Cleveland Plain Dealer article entitled Environmentalists Leery of Possible Loopholes, Chris Trepal, co-director of the Earth Day Coalition in Northeast Ohio, lambasted the enabling VAP legislation as "one of the poorest public policy measures I’ve ever seen." A clairvoyant Richard Sahli, executive director of the Ohio Environmental Council, echoed his sentiment in the May 26,1994, Cincinnati Post, "We do predict there will be a lot of shoddy cleanups under this bill the state will never catch." Testifying before the House Energy & Natural Resources Committee on behalf of the Ohio Academy of Trial Lawyers, Cincinnati environmental lawyer David Altman asserted, "This bill is a definite bait-and-switch. What it is supposed to do and what it does is two different things."
A seminal, 152 page 2001 Gund Foundation funded study by the Green Environmental Council confirmed the critics’ predictions. A dearth of agency resources to provide meaningful regulatory oversight combined with the lack of a credible, established enforcement mechanism has rendered the feckless, industry aligned program toothless. "It’s a broken program - it doesn’t work," declared the council’s Bruce Cornett in an interview with the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Both the Sierra Club and Ohio Citizen Action opposed the 2000 $400 million Clean Ohio state bond issue out of concern the fungible proceeds could be utilized to prop up the lame Voluntary Action Program and create a trojan horse polluters slush fund. "This is the governor's attempt to whitewash his EPA," charged Jane Forrest Redfern, environmental projects director for Ohio Citizen Action in a November 1, 2000, Cleveland Plain Dealer article. Dedicated professionals, veteran Ohio EPA bureaucrats attempted to rectify the problem. According to the October 4, 2000, Cleveland Plain Dealer, "EPA staffers who shared some of the environmentalists’ concerns, at one point launched a quiet but unsuccessful campaign to disband the program."
For six years after the Voluntary Action Program’s 1996 implementation, the U.S. EPA refused to extend program participants federal immunity and threatened to decertify the Ohio EPA due to the VAP’s expansive, inhibiting secrecy provisions and tangible lack of transparency. In a brokered, bifurcated modification to the Ohio VAP that "frankly doesn't make sense at all," according to Ohio Public Interest Research Group director Amy Simpson (Akron Beacon Journal, February 24, 2001), an alternative "memorandum of agreement" VAP track with enhanced public access was crafted. Companies that elect the original, opaque, "classic" option, which conceals under an embargo the extent and nature of contamination, will not be afforded U.S. EPA liability insulation. "Why Ohio would want a two-headed monster is beyond me," quipped the Ohio Environmental Council’s Jack Shaner. In SCA’s case, the jaundiced, green and incompliant wants to hide what you can’t see.
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