(Underlined words, phrases and sentences link to cited material)
180 Livingston Street Property: Sold in 2015
In October 2015, The Brooklyn Tabernacle (TBT) sold floors 1 and 2 at 180 Livingston Street to Thor Equities for $51,000,000, including the restaurant they owned and rented out to Dallas BBQ restaurant starting on May 25, 2005, which consisted of TBT’s for-profit representative organization, Churchill’s of Brooklyn, Inc., as Landlord receiving the rent checks. A deeper dive into TBT’s Churchill’s of Brooklyn, Inc. can be found HERE.
As part of the Sales Purchase Agreement, after a determined amount of time, TBT would regain ownership of the undeveloped, lower level of the property which consisted of subterranean space in the basement and subbasement. No windows, no natural light.
The lower level went under construction, which has been in process for about 5 years, paid for by TBT, with the desired end result being essentially the same as the floors they sold in 2015: a new space for the Children’s and Youth Ministries, as well as accommodate overflow during Sunday services. Serious questions regarding the finances of this project have been outlined in additional detail HERE.
Delays came into the picture, during the construction project at 180 Livingston Street, due to leaks coming from unidentified pipes. The Brooklyn Tabernacle (TBT) believed those leaks came from Dallas BBQ, thereby filing a lawsuit in August 2019, suing Dallas BBQ, along with their landlord, Thor Equities, for $10,000,000. The Brooklyn Tabernacle v. Thor 180 Livingston LLC et al., is being argued in a civil court, with assigned judge Pamela Fisher presiding, at the Kings County Supreme Court (518739/2019).
Announcement of Lawsuit to the Church
Jim Cymbala announced the lawsuit to the church in early January 2020, which was helpful for those who desired to follow the process along by accessing the Kings County Supreme Court public records. A summary article of the initial lawsuit filing can be found HERE. Full case documents, provided to the public on the Kings County Supreme Court website, can be found HERE.
The Brooklyn Tabernacle (TBT) claimed, “it continues to suffer catastrophic damage to its condominium premises (“Church Unit”) and continuing leaks have delayed construction and rendered the Church Unit unusable. The damage to the Church Unit is due to extensive water leaks, sewage and microbial emissions, mold and flooding conditions resulting from defective plumbing components, blockages in sanitary/sewer drain pipes, and the pervasive failure of waterproofing that has permitted water and putrid particles to infiltrate through ceiling penetrations from the unit above the Church Unit, owned by defendant, Thor 180 Livingston LLC (“Thor Unit”), and operated by the defendant, 180 Bklyn Livingston LLC, d/b/a Dallas BBQ (“Dallas BBQ”).” (518739/2019 Document #16, pp. 1-2, paragraph 2)
Dye Tests, Church Obfuscation
This is not cut-and-dry, as originally portrayed by the church’s narrative. What was thought to be a slam dunk for TBT became increasingly complicated, with ensuing March 2020 and June 2020 counterclaims.
Since the church initially accused the defendant, Dallas BBQ, of being the source of the leaks, the defendant rightfully made numerous requests for forensic dye tests at various pipe locations to determine whether the TBT claims are warranted. TBT’s demands included Dallas BBQ shutting down their restaurant for several weeks until everything was fixed.
In the meantime, Dallas BBQ took steps to fix known problems which were an issue, while pushing back hard on the accusations stating all leaks were coming from them, until the claims were proven one way or another with dye tests. Some of the work they did to mitigate certain leaks was insufficient, which was addressed by the court, requiring a complete re-do on some of their initial efforts and the offer to pay for such repairs from co-defendant and landlord, Thor Equities.
Dallas BBQ understandably did not want to shut down their restaurant, forcing loss of employment for its employees, when the church had not yet proven that all leaks are coming from the restaurant. The solution, naturally, was to perform tests to determine if the leaks were solely, indubitably from the Dallas BBQ premises.
Denied Access, False Accusations?
The church was suspected of denying access to the locations where Dallas BBQ and its representatives could properly investigate the leaks, playing a significant factor for the defendant(s) to obtain answers, including the ability to investigate whether or not the accusations are true.
“TBT has also falsely accused BBQ of being the cause of certain recent leaks, which accusation is in direct conflict with an investigation performed by representatives of co-defendant. (See, Houssain Aff at pars 31-34; see exhibit 3) TBT’s devious strategy is to make claims and not allow us to fully investigate, then to present misleading statements to the court. We cannot respond without timely disclosure and access.” (Document #64, p. 4, paragraph 13)
“If Plaintiff [TBT] had any interest in determining the source of the leaks, and resolving the issue, then it would have granted BBQ, and their respective professionals, access to Plaintiff’s premises to conduct the forensic analysis and dye tests. However, choosing instead to employ a “scorched earth litigation mentality” and be combative and litigious throughout the entire process/litigation, Plaintiff, without any explanation whatsoever, refused/denied access, thus compelling BBQ to bring a cross-motion seeking access.” (Document #117, p. 11, paragraph 39)
Forged Sworn Affidavit
During the course of the lawsuit, The Brooklyn Tabernacle purportedly committed an act of fraud, by forging a sworn affidavit to be signed by Jim Cymbala on February 18, 2020. Cymbala was out-of-town, as was reportedly announced to the entire church by Associate Pastor Alex Burgos at The Brooklyn Tabernacle Tuesday Night Prayer Meeting on that same date. Therefore it was not possible for the Cymbala Sworn Affidavit (Document #75) to have been signed by Cymbala.
The matter was addressed by opposing counsel: “Given the seriousness of this issue — involving what appears to be a fraud on the Court — my clients intend to make a formal application addressing the matter. We believe that if, indeed, plaintiff submitted a forged affidavit containing an illegal notarization, the remedies should include denial of the preliminary injunction motion (given that the equities are central to any such motion), if not outright dismissal of the action.” (Document #86)
The church attorney submitted an insufficient defense days later: “It should be crystal clear that Pastor Cymbala authorized his affidavit to be signed by another Pastor and then notarized, so there was no “forgery” as counsel for Thor has irresponsibly alleged.” (Document #87)
There is nothing “crystal clear” based on the above signatures, to indicate anyone was authorized to sign the Cymbala Sworn Affidavit, Document #75, other than Jim Cymbala himself. If there were formal authorization given by Cymbala, why wasn’t it properly documented, including the name and signature of “another Pastor,” as the church attorney’s response indicated, during the notarization process on February 18, 2020?
Church Commits a Criminal Act
About a month later, TBT reportedly committed a criminal act by cutting off the water supply to Dallas BBQ without prior authorization, during the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Specifically, and as noted in the Meisel Affirmation, it constitutes a violation of applicable penal laws to resort to self-help and to cut-off the water supply to the Premises, which arguments, conveniently, Plaintiff’s [TBT] counsel failed to refute, controvert or address in her opposition papers, and therefore, is deemed to admit, as a matter of law, that Plaintiff violated applicable penal laws, and, in doing so, committed a criminal offense. See Nagel, supra. Such criminal offense, and/or violation of applicable penal laws, warrants a finding that the equities lie in BBQ’s favor.” (Document #117, p. 5, paragraph 17)
“However, rather than resort to the Courts, and due process, Plaintiff [TBT] took the incredulous act of engaging in self-help and turning off water during a pandemic. Plaintiff, recognizing the grave mistake that it made in exercising self-help, which mistake constitutes a violation of New York Penal laws, now thinks it can undo its bad-faith and unlawful conduct by cross-moving for an order allowing it to engage in self-self. However, too little too late. Plaintiff’s rogue conduct potentially jeopardized BBQ’s business reputation, leasehold/occupancy rights, and the employment of its employees. Plaintiff’s conduct constitutes a significant and grave abuse of due process, which should not be countenanced by this Court.” (p. 7, paragraph 23)
“Plaintiff’s [TBT] counsel, throughout this litigation, has comically stated that they have been patiently waiting for a decision on their ignition motion (motion sequence 001). Such utterly risible statement is belied by the fact that rather than waiting for a decision to be issued by Your Honor, like so many other litigants in the State of New York, Plaintiff took it upon themselves, unilaterally, and with reckless disregard of their actions, engage in self-help. Such act evidences an utter disdain and disregard for judicial process and, in particular, Your Honor.“ (Document #131, p. 3, paragraph 8)
In the aftermath of the criminal offense committed by TBT cuting off the water at Dallas BBQ without any court order to do so:
“Further evidencing that Plaintiff [TBT] has no interest in amicably working with BBQ, and instead, seeks to be obstructionists, and engage in a pattern of bad-faith conduct, is that once the water was turned back on to the Premises (which Plaintiff concedes was not done timely in violation of the Order), Plaintiff never complained to, and/or otherwise notified BBQ, and/or any of BBQ’s employees, whether orally or in writing, about alleged leaks, including, but not limited to, water allegedly infiltrating into the Plaintiff’s premises.” (Document #117, p. 11, paragraph 41)
The Court ordered the church to turn the water back on at the Dallas BBQ premises. In order to prevent the church from taking matters into their own hands again, the Court instructed:
“In the event that any party at any time believes that the condition of the Premises constitutes a dangerous or hazardous condition to the health of and/or safety to others, the New York City Fire Department and Department of Buildings, or any other appropriate authority, shall be alerted immediately for the purpose of addressing the condition.” (Document #126)
Church Instigates Call to the New York City Fire Department
About a month later, “The FDNY [New York City Fire Department], at the instigation of the Church, shut off the water to the premises after receiving a complaint from the metropolitan transportation authority (“MTA”), a tenant on the second floor of the Building, since the alleged leak was claimed to be running near an elevator shaft in the basement that only served the MTA premises on the second floor of the building.” (Document #175, p. 14, paragraph 91)
“Upon information and belief, MTA would not have been aware of this leak absent the intervention and instigation of the Church. Even if the FDNY did turn off the water, it was clearly done, upon information and belief, at the direction of the Church, stemming from the Church’s disinterested malice towards BBQ, since the FDNY would not know which water valve to turn off without discretion from the Church’s agents.” (paragraphs 92-93)
“The church, out of spite, malice and animosity towards BBQ, and with the clear goal and objective of causing BBQ intentional harm and damage, and upon information and belief, facilitated, orchestrated and/or was otherwise instrumental in, the water turn off. As was the usual case for the church, and evidencing their utter malice and animosity towards BBQ, the Church did not notify BBQ of any water leaks, nor did they notify Thor…. The Church’s acts were exclusively directed to harm and injure BBQ and were done without any excuse or justification.” (paragraphs 89-90, 96)
The entirety of how TBT has conducted itself during the course of this lawsuit, and specifically during the pandemic, can be summed up in a sentence written in an email by one of the defendant’s lawyers:
“I am personally shocked that anyone, let alone a church, would behave in this manner during a pandemic.“ (Document #114)
Whose Drains Are Those, Anyway?
Through hundreds of pages of court documents, plenty has been said about the pipes, as well as the drains at Dallas BBQ leading to certain pipes that may or may not be the culprit of the leaks. In a session of court proceedings on April 29, 2020, it was stated that “the drains are not installed properly and the floor is not pitched to the drains. Visualize if the water doesn’t pitch into the drain, then having the drain is useless.” (Document #155, p. 58)
Further, “it’s because of lack of the waterproof membrane and lack of proper floor drainage and water has leaked onto those pipes for years and has corroded those pipes from the outside.” (p. 55)
Based on the above pictures at Dallas BBQ restaurant submitted in the current lawsuit (Documents #78, #151), it appears that the tile floors, including the drains and possibly even the wall paint in the pictures of Dallas BBQ, are all an exact match to the tile floors, drains and wall paint, that were in the 1st and 2nd floors of 180 Livingston Street during the years The Brooklyn Tabernacle (TBT) owned the space from 2004-2015. With $10,000,000 mortgage loans, the sale of their former location at 290 Flatbush Avenue for $4,750,000, totaling $14,750,000 and assuming the additional, generous giving of some high-level donors, it appears that the church, during their 2002-2004 construction phase leading up to the official purchase of the property, may have been responsible for the installation of the tile floors, drains and possibly the pipes underneath those floors.
Was the church aware of the shoddy drains and corroded underlying pipes when they sold the property to Thor Equities in 2015, since they ostensibly were the ones responsible for installing everything during the initial construction?
In addition, during the years when TBT owned the 1st floor of 180 Livingston Street between 2004-2015, there were reportedly countless issues of leaks and flooding directly related to weather-related precipitation, to which thousands of people could attest witnessing upon walking in the building after a rainstorm, especially near the elevator shaft, where the regular appearance of yellow caution cones almost became part of the décor.
This well-known weather-related issue could potentially be applied to the present-day Dallas BBQ restaurant location, also on the 1st floor of 180 Livingston Street. Document #129, p. 2, paragraph 5 in the lawsuit points in that direction: “when it rains, water backs up in the Unused Drain under the equipment into the bar area. According to my conversations with Mr. Frezza (including after his testing of the bar area), the backup of water suggests that the water is coming from outside, including the sidewalk or some other exterior area.”
If it is true that there were countless issues of leaks and flooding between 2004-2015 directly related to weather-related precipitation, wouldn’t the church have had knowledge of the outside sidewalk conditions when they sold the property to Thor Equities in 2015?
Is The Brooklyn Tabernacle The Cause of Their Own Leaks?
According to the October 25, 2019 Cymbala sworn affidavit (Document #16, p. 4, paragraph 8), “Demolition and excavation work to the subterranean space began in September of 2016.” Paragraph 10 continues, “…in early 2017, as the work was beginning to phase from demolition to construction, workers from Watermark Contractors (“Watermark”), the Church’s contractor, began to notice water leaks in areas where they had just poured new concrete slabs. As more areas were improved, the leaks became increasingly troublesome.”
This sworn statement indicates it was possibly up to several months after the “demolition and excavation work” began, before any leaks began to appear.
Opposing counsel representing Dallas BBQ restaurant picked up on this in subsequent counterclaims:
“In or about September 2016, the Church commenced construction activities in the Lower Unit that included extensive and excessive demolition of concrete utilizing jack hammers and other similar power tools. As a result of these activities, there were occasions that the Premises [Dallas BBQ restaurant] experienced earthquake-like and other seismic conditions. Certain portions of the flooring in the Premises cracked and separated, creating gaps in the flooring that likely resulted in water penetrating into areas located in the Lower Unit. Upon information and belief, the extensive and excessive demolition also caused plumbing fixtures and pipes and structures holding them in place to become loose. Upon information and belief, as a consequence of the extensive and excessive demolition, there were leaks of water and other liquids into the Lower Unit. The Church had a duty to perform its construction activities in accordance with all laws and so as to avoid and prevent any damage to the Premises and the pipes, plumbing and related fixtures located beneath the Premises. On information and belief, the Church breached this duty and failed to protect the Premises and areas beneath same.” (Document #175, pp. 9-10, paragraphs 56-62)
Steven Vornea and The Brooklyn Tabernacle
Steven Vornea: an unfamiliar name appearing to represent The Brooklyn Tabernacle (TBT) on an authoritative, executive level, as some kind of liaison during the circumstances surrounding the recent lawsuit, The Brooklyn Tabernacle v. Thor 180 Livingston LLC et al., as well as the larger scope of the construction project, which as of October 2019, the church “expended in excess of $40 million.”
His involvement as representative of TBT, at according to court files which show his name as either sender or recipient on almost every email correspondence, goes back to November 2017. Based on available public records at the Kings County Supreme Court, 10196/2014, July 17, 2014, p. 61, “For Leave to Mortgage Certain Real Property,” indicates a relationship existed between Steven Vornea (apparently also spelled ‘Vornet’), his company, Vero Realty Partners, LLC, Jim Cymbala and The Brooklyn Tabernacle, going back to at least June 2014:
According to Steven’s website, he is a “CEO and Entrepreneur, built his career in real estate finance on a solid foundation of hard work and merit,” and “worked with Thor Equities to structure a transaction between Treeline Companies and the Brooklyn Tabernacle Church. Teaming up with Thor Equities, he masterminded a complex transaction which enabled the church to convert some of their real estate holdings to cash without losing any ministry functionality. Simultaneously, Steven assisted the church to recapitalize its remaining debt whereby reducing interest costs cost by over 50%. The transaction ultimately closed in 2015 for over $150M.” The real estate transaction Steven referenced is covered HERE.
More from Steven’s bio: “A true son of NY, Steven still lives in New York City where he enjoys his family and friends, including his two dogs, in his free time. He can also be found biking around the city or skiing or swimming. Somehow, he still manages to make time to devote his remaining energy spending time at the Brooklyn Tabernacle.”
The Brooklyn Tabernacle (TBT) attempted to pay Vornea and another “Advisor,” Cheryl Ann Silich, for what appears to be their Real Estate Broker-type services provided during the sale of the 180 Livingston Street property, along with an ongoing relationship with Vornea beyond the sale, throughout the entirety of the construction project.
Additionally, in the March 2015 Sale-Purchase Agreement, TBT “has retained VERO Realty Partners, LLC (“Vero”) to act as the Seller’s agent concerning design, construction and project development matters relating to the Proposed Project.” (Kings County Supreme Court, 518739/2019, Document #180, p. 20, paragraph 9(g))
An August 13, 2015 petition submitted to the Kings County Supreme Court (8376/2015, p. 13-15) by Jim Cymbala, during the church’s application for approval to sell its assets at 180 Livingston Street, “By this application, Petitioner [Jim Cymbala, The Brooklyn Tabernacle] seeks to set forth further information with regard to the $4.3 million advisory fee payable to Vero/Reca (the “Advisor”) at the closing of the Sale (the “Advisory Fee”), in response to the clerk’s comment to the judge. The Advisor’s role in structuring this complex transaction was invaluable…. For the foregoing reasons, the payment of the Advisory Fee was duly and unanimously authorized by Petitioner’s [Jim Cymbala, The Brooklyn Tabernacle] Board of Trustees….”
However, in a supplemental petition (Index #8376/2015, p. 17, paragraph 4), the $4,300,000 advisory fee was rejected by the Court and the Attorney General, with the portion already paid in the amount of $400,000 instructed to be reimbursed.
“In correspondence dated August 5 and August 20, 2015, the Court requested additional information with respect to the $4,300,000 Advisory Fee. Following further review and at the request of the AG [Attorney General], the $4,300,000 Advisory fee has been waived, and will not be paid out of proceeds of the Sale or any other assets of the Petitioner [Jim Cymbala, The Brooklyn Tabernacle]…. A portion of the Advisory Fee in the amount of $400,000 has already been paid to the Advisor (the “Advance”). The advance will be repaid in accordance with an interest-bearing promissory note….” (p. 18, paragraph 5)
1999 Stock Fraud Case
It appears that the same Steven Vornea, who has been working in some manner alongside of The Brooklyn Tabernacle, “employed a device, scheme, or artifice to defraud” (FINRA CRD #2110896) in “possibly the largest arbitration award ever in a stock-fraud case.” (Arbitrators Award $19.7 Million To Couple in Stock-Fraud Case, Wall Street Journal, December 13, 1999. Follow-up, regarding Warren v. Tacher, 114 F. Supp. 2d 600, which took place at U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky, can be found HERE.)
According to the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) BrokerCheck, “This broker has been involved in one or more disclosure events involving certain final criminal matters, regulatory actions, civil judicial proceedings, or arbitrations or civil litigations…. Steven H. Vornea employed a device, scheme or artifice to defraud. He made untrue statements of material facts and omitted to state material facts, in connection with an offer to sell, offer to purchase or purchase of a security.” (p. 8)
The sanctions ordered, including Bar, Cease and Desist/Injunction, and Revocation/Expulsion/Denial, with this explanation:
“The license of Steven H. Vornea to sell securities in Georgia is hereby revoked. He is ordered to cease and desist any and all violations of Georgia Law, and he is forever barred from any association with a dealer, limited dealer or investment advisor registered in this state.” (p. 8)
Is it this Steven Vornea, who is, reportedly as a volunteer, providing authoritative, executive-type leadership oversight, representing The Brooklyn Tabernacle’s current construction project, which is filled with financially ethical questions, not the least of which is lack of transparency and no balance sheets detailing where potentially upwards of $60,000,000 has gone in the process? How do Jim Cymbala, TBT church leadership, and its Board of Directors, defend this?
Steven Vornea, Jim Cymbala, Paige Patterson, and
The Recovery Network
In November 2017, Southwest Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS) and then-president Paige Patterson hosted Steven Vornea as featured speaker at their Chapel service.
According to the SWBTS website, “Chapel services at Southwestern Seminary are a vital part of campus life. It is our desire to promote the spiritual growth and health of our students, staff, and faculty and everyone who would like to be a part of our chapel services.” A quick scan at the typical speaker for Chapel during the Fall of 2017 includes pastors, seminary professors, and the like. The addition to that list of Steven Vornea, CEO and Entrepreneur, is puzzling, especially noting his presentation is the only one without any scripture references.
Steven’s speech at SWBTS, My Story, incorporated some background on his life, plus how he got started in real estate: “the real way to make money in this business, you gotta be your own bank.” A considerable amount of time was spent detailing how he met Jim Cymbala a few years prior, and became involved with The Brooklyn Tabernacle (TBT).
According to Vornea, Cymbala needed help with the “mounds of debt on all his properties.” Vornea’s assessment was that Cymbala and TBT had been “taken by your own bank,” who, at that time, was America’s Christian Credit Union (ACCU). As such, Vornea “helped him [Cymbala] restructure all his [TBT’s] debt,” while reminding the audience, and as he alluded to on his website bio, it is “all volunteer work.”
From there, Vornea continues: Jim Cymbala “introduced me [Vornea] to so many other pastors and other faith-based organizations.” Among those, Don Wilkerson and Brooklyn Teen Challenge, who were “financially having a hard time,” and needed Steven’s help.
The remainder of Vornea’s speech was dedicated to the presentation of his then-newly formed organization, The Recovery Network (TRN), targeting the family members of those struggling with addictions, when it was revealed SWBTS then-President Paige Patterson was on the TRN Advisory Board. Vornea then implored the SWBTS student Chapel audience to register for the TRN app.
Vornea, Edwin Colon of Recovery House of Worship in Brooklyn, NY, and TRN Advisory Board member, Paige Patterson, hosted a Grindstone event a couple of days later, also at SWBTS, where they “challenged Grindstone attendees who are eager to support this type of ministry to sign up for a newsletter through The Recovery Network’s website.”
Vornea’s involvement in community-related ministries is seen in 2008 with his fundraising assistance for actor Stephen Baldwin’s Global Breakthrough Ministry Youth Program, which does not seem to be in existence any longer.
Colon also was a featured speaker at SWBTS Chapel during their visit, “Don’t Forget in the Dark What God Taught You in the Light,” referencing scripture from Psalm 103:1-5.
Paige Patterson was fired by SWBTS in May 2019. More info, including a summary of a subsequent lawsuit he is facing, is found HERE.
About 3 years after the SWBTS promotional opportunities for The Recovery Network undergirded and endorsed by then-President Paige Patterson, a current check of the TRN website indicates it is now defunct.