A local contractor and home renovator is facing felony charges stemming from his work for a former client, months after selling his stake in a Carytown-based real estate firm and filing for personal bankruptcy protection with $4 million in debt.
Robert E. “Bobby” Hicks – the “Bobby” in real estate brokerage and renovation firm Bobby+April – was arraigned Monday in Richmond Circuit Court on five felony indictments related to a dispute with a property owner that’s the subject of an active civil lawsuit.
That lawsuit, brought by Rhonda Lee against Hicks and his contracting business, Renew Renovations, was put on hold this month due to Hicks’ bankruptcy proceedings, which started in January as a Chapter 11 filing but was converted to Chapter 7 last month.
In the lawsuit, Lee, who previously worked as an agent for Bobby+April, claims Hicks did not complete her renovation project on time, performed unsatisfactory work and misrepresented his work when pulling funds for construction from an account Lee had with TowneBank.
The felony indictments, brought by a grand jury May 7, include two counts of obtaining money by false pretense, attempting to obtain money falsely, conspiracy to fraudulently obtain money, and larceny with intent to sell or distribute. Records show the charges relate to currency valued at or above $200 but do not list specific amounts.
The indictment initially authorized Hicks’ arrest, but he arrived on his own at Monday’s hearing and was allowed to leave with a promise to appear May 22, when he is to inform the court of his attorney arrangements.
Hicks told Judge Tracy Thorne-Begland that he would be represented by Ed Riley of Henrico-based law firm Riley & Wells. Prior to the arraignment, Hicks declined comment and referred questions to Riley, who was out-of-office Monday and could not be reached.
The indictments refer to actions Hicks allegedly took between June 30 and July 10 last year and around Sept. 10, 2016. They do not elaborate on the allegations beyond the specific charges, other than to say that the monies involved belonged to TowneBank and/or Lee.
Assistant Commonwealth Attorney Sau Chan is prosecuting the case. She would not comment on the charges or how the complaints against Hicks were brought to her attention.
In her lawsuit, which was filed last September, Lee states that Hicks was authorized to draw funds for work completed on her renovation of a rowhouse at 1107 Floyd Ave. from a loan she obtained from TowneBank, but she alleges Hicks misrepresented work performed or materials purchased when he requested construction draw payments on her behalf from the bank.
Lee argues that monies Hicks received from TowneBank that were to be put toward her project instead were used on other Renew Renovations projects and for Hicks’ personal use.
The project cost for Lee’s renovation was initially $375,000, and Lee paid Hicks an additional $13,000 to cover change orders, according to the suit.
Lee argues the project was not completed on time, causing her to terminate lease agreements with eight VCU students to whom she planned to rent the rowhouse, resulting in a loss of potential income from monthly rents of $700 per tenant. The suit states Lee will incur additional expenses to remediate defective work performed by Hicks.
The suit alleges breach of contract and fraud and seeks at least $75,000 in damages plus accrued interest from April 15, 2016. Lee is represented by attorney John Taylor with FloranceGordonBrown.
A hearing in the case had been scheduled April 30 but was deferred and later put on hold May 1 due to Hicks’ bankruptcy proceedings. A creditors meeting in the bankruptcy case is scheduled for today, May 15.
Hicks faces a second active lawsuit from former clients that likewise has been put on hold due to the bankruptcy proceedings. That suit, filed in December 2016 by Beth and Richard Kelly, relates to work performed on the Kellys’ residence on Hanover Avenue in the Fan.
In addition to Hicks, the suit names as a defendant April Straus, Hicks’ domestic partner and collaborator on Bobby+April, which is also named as a defendant.
Hicks and Straus are represented in that case by Barry Montgomery and Andrew Webb of Richmond law firm Kalbaugh, Pfund & Messersmith.
According to Hicks’ original bankruptcy petition filed Jan. 16, he sold his interest in Bobby+April’s business entity, Bobby & April LLC, to Straus on Jan. 6. The petition lists the value of the transaction at $90,000, to be paid to Hicks in monthly installments over 45 months.
Straus, who serves as principal broker for Bobby+April, now is considered the sole owner of the business, which she and Hicks started eight years ago. The company, which markets itself as a concierge service to buy, sell and renovate homes primarily in and around the Fan, maintains a storefront in Carytown at 3311 W. Cary St.
The firm’s website describes Bobby+April as the exclusive agent for Renew Properties, a holding company associated with Hicks’ Renew Renovations.
Straus told BizSense in March that Bobby+April and Renew Renovations operated as separate companies and that Bobby+April is not involved in or affected by Hicks’ bankruptcy filing. At a creditors meeting the previous month, Hicks said he filed for bankruptcy in part due to costs in defending himself against the lawsuits from Lee and the Kellys.
The bankruptcy petition filed in January listed $4.6 million in liabilities for Hicks and about $853,000 in assets. It was filed on Hicks’ behalf by Robert Canfield of law firm Canfield, Wells & Kruck.