Foreclosed wedding venue headed to auction
— In a stunning turn of events, the Elk Neck wedding venue that was hosting couples’ nuptials as recently as nine weeks ago is now headed to the auction block.
The Winery at Elk Neck, owned by former Google executive Simon Tusha, of Forest Hill, and operated by his wife, Gretchen, closed abruptly in the first days of August without notice, leaving dozens of couples without the weddings for which they had paid. News
of the closing sent ripples across the region as media swarmed the bucolic venue at 88 Rivers Edge Road only to find a closed sign on the gate and alternative vendors reached out to effected couples offering their help.
Tusha’s operation at Elk Manor was ultimately impacted by his guilty plea in a federal tax fraud case. On May 20, he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to obstruct and impede the IRS, defrauding the government of nearly $1 million in tax returns. Tusha admitted in federal court in Pittsburgh that he received some $3.2 million in kickbacks from companies in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands that were negotiating contracts for data centers with Google and then hid the money from his employer and the IRS through a series of shell companies he and his co-conspirators created, according to U.S. District Court records. He now faces up to five years in prison and a fine up to $250,000 in the case, set for sentencing in January.
While he tried to reassure worried couples that his plea would have no impact on the venue, it actually would have dramatic consequences.
The Tushas and their business were running into default on a nearly $5 million loan from BB&T Bank. On Aug. 2, BB&T lawyers filed a complaint for confession of judgment in Cecil County Circuit Court, arguing that the Tushas and their associated businesses had violated the terms of their loan, according to court records.
Among the reasons that the bank’s legal team lists for the default were the Tushas’ false assertion that they had no tax liabilities prior to obtaining the loan, that they used proceeds of the loan for questionable purposes that were
never explained, that they failed to submit tax returns or business statements to the bank in a timely manner, that they pledged the business’ real property to another management group without the bank’s consent and that the borrowers’ financial condition worsened due to Simon Tusha’s guilty plea to tax fraud, according to court records.
On Aug. 2, the Tushas’ lawyer entered judgments against them as a result of the bank’s pressure, expediting the business’ closure that would happen about a week later.
The Maryland Casino Business Investment Fund also sought judgment against the Tushas for a 10-year note issued to the business, yielding a $490,000 judgment against the couple and their business last month. Since those first cases, more creditors and displaced couples have lined up to seek judgements in both Cecil and Harford counties.
Direct Capital Corporation, of New Hampshire, is seeking a judgment against the couple for more than $67,000 in leases on heating and air conditioning equipment, cranes and more. Meanwhile, Rapid Capital Finance, of Florida, is seeking more than $192,000 in future receivables, derived essentially from a $150,000 loan on future leasing income of the wedding venue.
Last month, Thomas and Laura Kemp, of Elkton, successfully obtained a consent judgment against the Tushas for $7,900 related to the expenses of their planned Oct. 9 wedding. The venue told the couple that it would be building a two-story tent that they could utilize for their reception, but the business never obtained the necessary county permits for such a project, according to court records. Simon Tusha even told Thomas Kemp as late as July 9 that his wedding would not be affected, and the couple made final payment for their wedding day, court records report.
After the venue was shuttered and the Kemps received emails informing them of the closure, they reached out to the venue’s wedding planner personally.
“I am in no way affiliated with Elk Manor or the Tushas any longer. I want to be completely honest with you in this email since I know that you haven’t had that for the last few months. I advocated every day for you and all the other couples and was only ever provided with lies. I was never provided with any answers and for that I apologize,” replied the wedding planner, who also offered her help to relocate the ceremony, according to court records.
The Kemps weren’t alone either as another displaced bride, Morgan Brown, of Hartly, Del., is also now suing the Tushas and the venue for breach of contract on their planned Oct. 29 wedding, seeking $15,500 in damages and fees.
As their business collapsed and creditors came calling, the Tushas put the Elk Neck venue on the market for $9.9 million and their Forest Hill mansion on the market for $1.45 million. Now without business loans to support it, however, the venue has entered foreclosure.
At noon Oct. 21, the more than 150-acre property along with its winery, four residential buildings, two offices, two event halls and two barns will be sold at auction on the Cecil County Circuit Courthouse steps. A cash or certified check deposit of $250,000 will be required at the time of sale. In addition to sale of the property, the creditor will also be selling the venue’s furniture, equipment, tents, accounts, inventory and tools at auction.
More than two months after Elk Manor Winery in Elk Neck shut its doors, leaving scores of couples without their venue just days before their weddings, the foreclosed-upon property is headed to auction.