Facing two court rulings against his businesses and upwards of $750,000 in reported debt, a once-high-profile local house rehabber has filed for personal bankruptcy protection.
Josh Romano, whose Cobblestone Development Group was featured in last year’s HGTV “Richmond Rehabbers” pilot, filed for Chapter 7 protection in federal bankruptcy court on Oct. 31, the same day a Richmond Circuit Court judge was scheduled to determine damages in a lawsuit brought against Romano by a former client.
The filing lists nearly $770,000 in liabilities owed to 75 creditors, including Melissa “Missy” Bass, who was awarded just under $240,000 in damages in her lawsuit against Romano stemming from a renovation of her residence that she said was not completed on time and required $70,000 in repairs to finish and correct code violations.
Also listed in the filing are John and Sharon Coombs, former Cobblestone clients who likewise sued Romano for just over $23,000 in costs they say they incurred when Romano didn’t finish their renovation according to their contract, preventing them from closing on the house, which they ultimately never purchased.
Other debts listed include $100,000 to Lloyd Poe, a local builder who lent money to and collaborated with Romano on some projects; $100,000 to Jason Moneymaker, a local real estate agent; and $60,000 each to Howdyshell Flooring in Midlothian and Mid South Building Supply in Henrico.
Other high-dollar amounts include $55,000 to Brian and Lily Cameron, of Ashland; $55,000 to Essex Bank; $50,000 to local law firm Parker, Pollard, Wilton & Peaden; $35,000 to DMB Group, a general contracting firm in Quinton; and $35,000 to Hayward Taylor, of Glen Allen, among other creditors listed.
Several creditors are listed with “unknown” debt amounts, meaning the total debt Romano owes could be higher than the $770,000.
A creditors meeting was scheduled Monday morning but wasn’t held because the federal courthouse was closed due to snowfall. Bruce Matson, a LeClairRyan attorney serving as interim trustee in the case, said Tuesday he had not yet been advised of a new meeting date.
‘My reputation has taken a hit’
Romano, who claims assets totaling $7,300 in the filing, said Tuesday he filed for bankruptcy at the advice of his attorneys, who he said advised that he had no choice but to do so in light of the judgments from the lawsuits.
Romano said he has been unable to secure local work since finishing three homes that were the last of his remaining jobs after the bulk of his holdings were sold or deeded back to lenders this year. His bankruptcy filing lists combined monthly income of just over $6,400 and monthly expenses totaling $7,100.
Romano said he has turned in his real estate license and is no longer an agent with Oakstone Properties, the latest in a line of brokerages where he had hung his hat in recent years. He said he has also cut ties with Lloyd Poe, the local builder who he had described as a mentor, and is considering moving his family, including wife and business partner Breese, out of town to seek opportunities elsewhere.
“I didn’t want to hurt Lloyd or hurt anybody who was trying to help me,” Romano said. “Apparently my reputation now has taken a pretty good hit, so it’s not fair to anybody like Lloyd who’s trying to look out for me.
“I’m considering other markets. …We really need a fresh start. It’s been a pretty tough year for my family and I,” he said, reiterating past statements he’s made that he’s committed to working off his debts and paying back everyone he owes.
“I’ve got to get my family into a place where we’re good and stable … Once we get through that, my plan is to hopefully build again, build a company one more time, and hopefully build it the right way with better foundation and slow growth.”
‘Willful nature’ of violations
Growing too fast is what Romano and others have said put him in this position – and put numerous subcontractors, homebuyers and others who worked with him in financial and legal difficulties of their own.
When the Romanos were set to star in the HGTV pilot, which ultimately was not picked up for a series, they had closed out 2016 having completed the renovation and sale of nearly 30 homes, according to Romano. By spring of this year, he said his property count had dropped from 20 properties at his busiest to less than five, after multiple properties and unfinished projects were foreclosed on or deeded back to lenders.
Local suppliers and contractors listed in the bankruptcy filing as being owed money include Goochland-based Blue Ridge Construction ($15,000), Mechanicsville-based Grayt Homes ($7,000), Angels Paving and Sealing ($5,300), Fireside Hearth & Home ($3,500), Maggie’s Gardens ($3,500), Domestica Landscape ($3,500), Delgado Masonry ($2,700) and Ferguson Enterprises ($2,500), among others.
Bass, who originally sought $345,000 in her lawsuit, said her priority now is figuring out how to collect the nearly $240,000 awarded her: almost $115,260 in actual damages; the same amount in additional damages attributed in the judgment to “the willful nature” of Romano’s CNJ Ventures and other LLCs’ violations of the Virginia Consumer Protection Act; and just over $9,000 in attorney’s fees and costs.
With Romano’s bankruptcy filing, Bass’s and others’ lawsuits against him are stayed until further ordered by the bankruptcy court. Bass, who was represented in her suit by A. Blake Gayle of Zwerdling, Oppleman & Adams, said she has retained a bankruptcy attorney – Johnie Muncy with law firm Samuel I. White – to challenge the stay.
Meanwhile, the Coombses were awarded $23,247 in their judgment, which was made on the basis of breach of contract and fraud, according to a copy of the order in Richmond General District Court. They were not awarded attorney’s fees because they were awarded monetary damages on fraud allegations, and all claims against Breese Romano individually in their suit were dismissed with prejudice.
As was the case in Bass’s suit, all of the Coombses’ claims against Josh Romano individually were stayed without prejudice due to the bankruptcy filing. The Coombses were represented by Robin Morgan of Blackburn, Conte, Schilling & Click.
Romano is represented in the bankruptcy case by Robert Canfield of Canfield, Wells & Kruck – the same bankruptcy attorney representing local contractor Bobby Hicks in his ongoing Chapter 7 liquidation. Romano’s attorneys in the lawsuits were Stephen Scarce, Trevor Reid and Dimitrios Karles of Parker, Pollard, Wilton & Peaden.