A notorious Richmond landlord with a history of legal troubles is facing fresh allegations of a scheme to defraud creditors in a bankruptcy case.
A year after filing for personal bankruptcy, Oliver Lawrence, who once was sentenced by a judge to live in one of his dilapidated rental properties, is being accused of plotting with his wife Kim to move money and assets between them in an effort to keep those assets from the reach of creditors. Those include their 25-acre Ashland home.
A federal judge on Tuesday granted a preliminary injunction prohibiting the Lawrences from transferring property or money in excess of $20,000 without approval of the trustee overseeing the bankruptcy estates of Oliver Lawrence and one of his businesses, Chamberlayne Auto Sales & Repair (CASR).
The action results from a complaint from Peter Barrett, a Kutak Rock attorney serving as the trustee in the Chapter 7 bankruptcy proceedings.
In the complaint, filed Feb. 5 Barrett describes the Lawrences’ actions in those proceedings as the latest example of a years-long scheme.
While Lawrence has told creditors that he claims no assets, according to the complaint, Kim, a pharmacist at a Richmond-area hospital, claims a total of $18.45 million in assets and $2.53 million in debts, making her total net worth $15.92 million.
The complaint alleges the couple has a history of putting their assets under Kim’s name following Lawrence’s conviction in 2009 of multiple violations related to his home rental business.
In 2010, for example, it is alleged the couple transferred ownership of their 7,000-square-foot home from Lawrence to Kim, who is listed in Hanover County records as the sole property owner.
“The transfer of the residence is only a small part of a consistent pattern of the scheme to have (Kim) Lawrence take title to valuable assets in which (Oliver) Lawrence previously had an interest,” the complaint states.
“The defendants were part of an illegal enterprise to hinder, delay and defraud the creditors of (Oliver) Lawrence and CASR. These bankruptcy cases are part of that scheme,” the complaint states. “…The time has come for the debtors and their non-debtor co-conspirators to finally account for their years of fraud and deceit.”
According to the complaint, CASR was strategically put under Kim’s name as owner, even though Oliver effectively ran it and two other businesses listed as defendants in the case: Auto Center Holdings, tied to a business that operated on Westover Hills Boulevard, and LBKBL Properties, the home rental business.
LBKBL was the latest iteration of Lawrence’s home rental business, according to the complaint, which notes he did business under previous entities LSU LLC and Bayou Properties LLC. At the time of his meeting with creditors last year, Lawrence said his home rental business totaled over 1,200 properties.
According to Barrett, those businesses were “rife with illegal practices, unscrupulous business dealings and suspicious activities.” After Lawrence’s 2009 conviction, in which he was ordered to serve 30 days in jail followed by 40 days in one of his rundown properties, Lawrence formed LBKBL in Kim’s name, the complaint states, “solely to elude the legal and financial obligations (Oliver) Lawrence accrued during his prior businesses.”
The complaint states that, by the end of 2016, LBKBL owned $2.5 million in real estate and collected almost $350,000 in annual rents. CASR had $2.6 million in revenue in 2015 and $1.5 million in 2016, according to the complaint.
Lawrence’s holdings over the years have included three properties on East Grace Street once referred to as “Little Baghdad.” Those buildings went to the auction block in 2010 and were later purchased in 2016 in a $2.07 million deal. At least seven of his other properties went to foreclosure auction in 2013.
The complaint also refers to dealings at a third business, Auto Center, from which money was transferred to a bank account for LBKBL but still used to make payments on Auto Center debts, according to past testimony from Lawrence.
The complaint seeks judgments against the Lawrences in an amount to be determined in a trial, plus punitive damages, attorney’s fees and other costs.
A response to the complaint had not been filed as of Thursday. Opposition is due to the court by 5 p.m. Feb. 16.
Court documents do not indicate legal counsel for the Lawrences. Oliver Lawrence was represented in his bankruptcy petition last year by local attorney Aubrey Hammond. A message left for Hammond on Wednesday was not returned.
Barrett did not return a call seeking comment.
Kutak Rock’s Jeremy Williams and co-counsel Thomas Domonoske of Newport News-based Consumer Litigation Associates are working the case on behalf of the trustee. Reached Wednesday, Williams declined to comment.
The injunction is effective through a hearing scheduled Feb. 20, when the judge could decide to extend or lift it.