Fore­closed wed­ding venue headed to auc­tion

Cecil Whig - - FRONT PAGE - By JA­COB OWENS

jowens@ce­cil­whig.com

— 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

ELK­TON

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.

CE­CIL WHIG FILE PHOTO

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.

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