Friday evening, Rocks Off met with Jeff Barry, the attorney who represents both SG Properties, owner of the now-nameless music venue at 1503 Chartres, and SG owner Gary Katz, about the events that transpired earlier this week that you can read about here and here. The tired-looking lawyer said he had slept maybe 10 hours this week since being notified of the situation in the pre-dawn hours of Tuesday morning.
According to Barry, Anosh Ahmed, the tenant who was locked out less than 24 hours later, has accumulated more than $50,000 in debt to SG Properties, bounced several checks, raised "serious payroll concerns" regarding employees of the former Wired Live, allowed at least one health-inspection permit to expire and has been contacted by the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission for failure to remit to wholesalers or distributors.
Barry declined to go into specifics over how many checks were bounced or who they were written to, except to say they were to "parties I represent or parties that approached me" and that he is "pursuing collection through proper channels."
Barry said Ahmed had contacted the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission and raised several allegations concerning the building's occupancy permits and safety. He had not heard back from the TABC, he said, but had also contacted the agency himself.
Because the venue's liquor license is still in Ahmed's name, while he waits for it to be transferred, Barry gave away two free drinks to everyone at Friday night's show by Japanese DJ Satoshe Tomiie and throughout the facility. As long as everyone was of legal drinking age, Barry said, "there ain't nothing wrong with giving it away for free."
Among the allegations Barry said that Ahmed raised were that the building's sprinkler system doesn't work, which he said was untrue to the tune of several thousand dollars in water damage when the system accidentally went off, and text messages alleging insurance fraud he said his insurance adjuster dismissed as "ludicrous." He said the building is in the process of continuing renovations, and when Rocks Off asked him point blank if the building was up to code, replied, "To the best of my knowledge."
Barry has not been contacted by anyone with the City of Houston's Department of Public Works and Engineering, the agency that oversees building inspections, he added. However, a health inspector had shown up to the building recently and informed interim promotions manager Scott Arnebold, who was present for this part of the conversation, that the health permit had expired; Arnebold said he paid the renewal cost himself.
"The very person making the accusations is the one who has mismanaged the venue for as long as he did," Barry said. "Every day we receive some correspondence, none of it good... Nothing good ever arrives by certified mail." Barry said he had seen two receipts of such correspondence, and another piece of certified mail had arrived at the building earlier on Friday.
A postcard from TABC on Barry's desk addressed to "Meridian" - Barry says Ahmed never updated the business' name with the agency - bore the following message: "4 cash/2 credit law incidents within a 12-month period." Such notices are sent to bar/nightclub owners when a wholesaler or vendor contacts the TABC after they have not been paid.
Barry said that although he has not heard from anyone claiming to be Ahmed's legal counsel, he and other employees at the venue had heard from Ahmed himself several times. "He contacts me and members of my staff daily, leveling his regular barrage of idle, baseless threats based upon his own complete and total misunderstanding of Texas law.
"I asked him to have his attorney call me," he added. "Everybody seems to have my number, and I have yet to receive a call from anybody claiming to represent Anosh. My friendly advice to anyone who does is get paid up front."
Barry said that the venue is not on the market, and he will remain on as general manager.
"It is amazing to me, coming from a legal community known for its cutthroat nature, how supernaturally competitive this business can be," he said. "After a week, I don't think there's anybody in this business that doesn't possess a nice set of fangs - people trying to sign shows out from under you, the very people who you allow to come in every day and even give free office space to.
"It makes the legal profession look tame by comparison, but as they say, butterflies don't sleep in hot tubs," he added. "I intend on being in this hot tub for a while.
"I walked into a situation I can only describe as a toxic environment."
After we left the meeting, Rocks Off left a message for Ahmed on his voicemail, and he called us back about 15 minutes later.