A fight between a bank and a defunct Charlottesville sleep clinic has spilled over into Richmond.
The former Keswick Sleep Institute and one of its owners are suing Sonabank and a loan officer and seeking $7.5 million in damages. The clinic and co-founder Teresa Cralle claim the bank refused to sign off on a deal the institute had lined up to sell to Bon Secours and that the efforts “were a [ruse] to eliminate competition of UVA,” according to the suit.
The University of Virginia operates a rival sleep clinic in the area.
Cralle and her former company allege fraud, intentional infliction of emotional distress, conversion and conspiracy to injure a business.
The suit, filed March 29 in Richmond Circuit Court, also claims that the Sonabank loan officer that worked with the institute had expressed a “personal vendetta against Cralle and her business.”
One of the most active SBA lenders in Central Virginia, McLean-based Sonabank has 19 branches, including one in Charlottesville and one in Midlothian.
Sonabank has been the lead lender on several high-profile projects across Richmond, including the Boathouse restaurant at Rocketts Landing and the $20 million Uptown Alley bowling complex in Chesterfield.
The Keswick Sleep Institute took out an SBA-guaranteed loan with Sonabank to open its clinic at 154 Hansen Road in Charlottesville. Sonabank vice president of lending Teri Tosti helped the institute with its loan, according to the suit.
Cralle and her partner put their houses up as collateral and claim the institute was establishing a foothold in the Charlottesville market “in direct competition to the University of Virginia.”
But the business fell behind on its loan payments and its rent.
In 2008, they worked to find a buyer for the business to generate proceeds that could pay the back rent and missed loan payments.
Deals with several potential suitors came and went, the suit claims, because Sonabank allegedly refused to sign off on any such sale of the institute.
Then, in March 2011, health-care giant Bon Secours made a $275,000 offer for the business, according to the suit. Cralle would have stayed on to run the business.
A week before that deal was to close, the suit alleges, Tosti and the institute’s landlord changed the locks on the sleep clinic’s office, took down its signage and “forcibly shut” down the business.
The suit claims that Tosti knew of the deal with Bon Secours and that the defendants knew the institute would “be branded with the Bon Secours name and thus be a large enough entity to compete with UVA and its sleep disorders clinic.”
Rather than foreclose on the stated collateral of Cralle and her partner’s homes, the bank eventually sold the institute’s assets to UVA for $25,000, according to the suit. That money allegedly went to the clinic’s landlord.
Although she’s going up against a $722 million bank and its holding company, Cralle said in a brief phone interview Monday that she plans to continue to pursue the case.
“I’m not one to roll over,” she said. “I’m going to fight this tooth and nail.”
Sonabank President Rod Porter did not return calls seeking comment on the suit.
Richmond attorney Lori Harris is representing Keswick Sleep Institute and Cralle. Harris declined to comment without permission from her client.
This isn’t the first time Sonabank has been caught up in a financial mess in Charlottesville.
It was sued in 2011 over an $8.2 million loan made to Patricia Kluge’s ill-fated real estate development Vineyard Estates.