Bankruptcy judge orders The Breakfast Club's DJ Envy to hand over documents or face arrest
DJ Envy used his show to promote a real estate investment venture with Cesar Pina, who is facing a federal wire fraud criminal charge in addition to many lawsuits.
A judge has threatened DJ Envy of the syndicated hip-hop radio show The Breakfast Club with arrest if he doesn’t comply with a subpoena in a bankruptcy involving accused fraudster Cesar Humberto Pina.
Legal name Raashaun Casey, Envy has until Jan. 8 to produce all documents requested by a court-appointed trustee overseeing Pina’s company Whairhouse LLC since it was forced into bankruptcy by creditors four months ago. If he doesn’t, he could be arrested and taken to bankruptcy court in New Jersey for a mandatory deposition and possibly face other sanctions.
The order Wednesday from U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Rosemary Gambardella in Newark, N.J. grants a motion from the trustee’s attorneys that said Envy missed his Nov. 28 deadline to a Nov. 9 subpoena that seeks communications and documents related to Whairhouse as well as the company behind an apartment complex Pina owns.
Judge Gambardella’s new order also applies to Pina and his wife, Jennifer Iturralde Pina, who were served with subpoenas when meeting with the trustee on Nov. 10. All have until Jan. 8 to comply.
If they don’t, Judge Gambardella said she may hold a hearing “to address appropriate sanctions against Cesar Pina, Jennifer Iturralde Pina and Raashaun Casey for contempt of this Court’s order, including, but not limited to an order for arrest to bring the parties to the United States Bankruptcy Court.”
The order comes at an already precarious time for the trio, who were involved in a real estate venture federal prosecutors allege was a criminal scheme that defrauded investors out of millions of dollars.
Pina, 45, was arrested on Oct. 18 and is out of jail awaiting trial. Envy, 46, has not been charged with a crime, and he’s tried to distance himself from Pina through his own defamation lawsuit against a YouTube commentator who discusses the scandal and public statements from a defense lawyer who insists Envy is a victim, not a criminal.
But Envy recently switched lawyers, replacing Massimo D’Angelo of the pricey white-shoe law firm Blank Rome LLP in New York City with Dan Marchese of the lesser-known Williams, Graffeo & Stern, LLC, in Morristown, N.J., who could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.
Envy also has been hit with a new federal lawsuit from two men who say Envy’s involvement and claimed $100 million real estate portfolio with Pina were “instrumental” in their decision to invest in Pina’s companies. Envy already was a defendant in several other state court lawsuits over the investment plan, and he’s facing a revived lawsuit over his German Shepard allegedly biting a woman’s hip at his former mansion in Kinnelon, N.J.
Plaintiff’s attorney Alexander Schachtel, who’s pursuing several lawsuits against Envy and the Pinas, told Legal Affairs and Trials on Wednesday he has “significant evidence that implicates DJ Envy” in Pina’s financial scheme and shows he profited from it. Schachtel provided dozens of photo and video promotions of the real estate seminars, including several in which Envy is alone while encouraging hopeful investors to sign up.
“'What should I do? I got some money, what should I do? I always say ‘real estate’ and this is the perfect time. Money is cheap,” Envy says in one.
“We also have bank statements which show that the two had multiple joint bank accounts earning at least $330k through 2021 from their joint seminars alone,” Schachtel told Legal Affairs and Trials. “We anticipate that when we get complete bank records via discovery there will be much more evidence in that department.”
Envy’s association with Pina has earned broad news coverage since Pina’s arrest. At the same time, Envy is regularly on air across the United States through The Breakfast Club, hip-hop culture’s popular morning radio show, based in New York City but syndicated nationally and aired on BET.
Envy has co-hosted the show since 2010 with Charlamagne Tha God. They were inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame in 2020.
In 2018, Envy began hosting real-estate seminars with Pina, who nicknamed himself “Flipping NJ.” He and Pina bought property in New Jersey together, and Envy used the social media platforms he built through The Breakfast Club to promote their investment enterprise while gaining millions followers. Hopeful investors paid $100 to $200 to attend seminars in New Jersey, New York and other states such as Florida and Nevada that Pina and Envy touted as educational but the recent federal lawsuit alleges “were used as funnels to draw in victims for the Defendants’ scam.”
“Advertising for the seminars was done heavily on the radio through the 105.1 New York broadcast station and particularly on DJ Envy’s show, The Breakfast Club as well as through billboards and other radio stations,” according to the lawsuit, filed Dec. 8 in the District of New Jersey.
Meanwhile, Pina’s federal criminal case charges him with a single count of wire fraud through complaint, not a grand jury indictment, though an indictment with many more charges likely is coming. He’s out of jail on a GPS monitor and $1 million bond that he secured through property he owns in Franklin Lakes, N.J. The home was once owned by Real Housewives of New Jersey couple Joe and Melissa Gorga.
Pina spoke about his situation live for 24 minutes on Instagram six days after his arrest, saying, “It is what it is. If I owe, I owe.”
“All of this falls on me. I'm a man and it falls on my shoulders. Nobody else,” Pina said. “I have nothing against the government. The government is doing their case. I understand it.”
Pina’s Franklin Lakes address is listed as the principal place of business Whairhouse LLC, which was forced into bankruptcy on Aug. 22 by eight people who say they invested between $100,000 and $1.65 million in Whairhouse but never saw any money in return.
Judge Gambardella appointed a trustee to take over the company at the request of the investors’ attorney, Sean Mack, who said in a Aug. 22 memo that Pina used the company “to operate a real estate Ponzi scheme” and was able to induce many investors with the fame he achieved “based on DJ Envy’s promotion of his real estate deals.”
Mack also said Pina and his wife “have been strategically using voluntary bankruptcy filings to interfere with state court judicial proceedings relating to their real estate investments,” including a bankruptcy petition for Whairhouse Real Estate Investments LLC that’s connected to “an imminent foreclosure on a $1.5 million dollar mortgage encumbering a Paterson property.”
Jennifer Pina also filed another petition for Taylor Court Apartments LLC, which controls a 50-unit apartment complex in Paterson, about 15 miles north of Newark.
Creditors had been trying to get the LLC’s bank accounts frozen through a court order, but the bankruptcy filing halted their effort because their lawsuit was put on hold. The Pinas or entities controlled by them are defendants in at least 18 other lawsuits in New Jersey.
“Based on the publicly filed lawsuits, phone calls I have received, and documents provided to me from other alleged victims, it appears that more than 45 other people are owed over $40 million from their investments with the Pinas and their entities,” according to an Aug. 22 declaration from Mack.
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Acknowledging the “unusual nature” of an involuntary bankruptcy petition, Brian W. Hofmeister, an attorney representing Pina’s company, argued in September that the petition should be dismissed “based on bad faith.”
Hofmeister, a solo practitioner in Lawrenceville, N.J., called the attempts to collect “alleged” money owed by Pina “truly reprehensible” and said text messages and emails establish “that the petition filing was one driven by ill will, the desire to harass and perhaps even rage and revenge.” He said the communications “truly represent the worst of society and in some extreme examples potentially criminal activity, including but not limited to extortion, RICO violations and terroristic threats on top of unconscionable collection practices.”
“While there are any number of reasons why the Court should dismiss this case, the failure to do so will embroil this Court further in elements that have potentially criminal liability and will not yield the results the PCs [petitioning creditors] are after in any event,” Hofmeister wrote.
Hofmeister included as exhibits copies of dozens of text messages apparently sent to the Pinas.
One said, “When you go back inside I want you to always remember that i’m the one who put you there,” referring to Cesar Pina’s previous federal incarceration for a 2004 credit card fraud.
Other text messages threatened Pina’s life as well as the lives of his wife and daughter. Most detailed complaints about missing money. One included a screenshot of an email from an investigator with the New Jersey Department of Banking and Insurance and began, “You and your husband better send me my money today or this going viral on my platform…”
Some of the screenshots show replies from Pina, including one on July 20 that reflects a mentality that permeates so many financial investment schemes.
“Bro im gonna make it right I’m not going anywhere it’s just need a little bit more time like two more weeks I’m good”
Another said, “Do what you have to do. My only responsibility is to come thru and make everything right with everybody I have to pay. Everybody is gonna get their funds. i’m not scared of you, social media, the media anything. Everybody is gonna get paid. The more people attack the longer it will take.”
One line Hofmeister apparently thought somehow supported his argument that the texts were over the top and warranted the dismissal of the bankruptcy petition was, “The list to testify against you criminally and civilly is a mile long.”
In addition to citing the texts, Hofmeister also argued that New Jersey law precludes the petitioners from collecting interest on their investments, which their lawyer pointed out does not dispute the underlying debt or the allegations of fraud.
“Whairhouse did not dispute that it has been operating a real estate based Ponzi-like scheme, it did not dispute that each of the Petitioners invested with it the money set forth in the joint venture agreements attached to each of their declarations, and it did not dispute that it failed to pay each of the Petitioners the profits that the joint venture agreement it prepared for each of them said they would be paid,” according to Mack’s reply.
Mack said it is “very telling” that the Pinas have 18 lawsuits pending against them in state court, but the only actions they’ve hired lawyers for are actions that involve possible court take over of their companies.
“The only bad faith in this case is that of the Pinas who have sought to play games with this Court’s jurisdiction to gain advantages in state court litigations,” according to the Sept. 29 filing, which notes that the texts Hofmeister included “do not reflect the complete online back and forth of the Pinas taunting their victims and their losses.”
“In the only real exchange disclosed in those exhibits is one response in which, after being told the ‘feds are coming,’ the Pinas responded by taunting the victim and admitting to their crimes saying ‘3 meals a day fed time is easy I’ll come out rich and you will still be broke,’” wrote Mack, a partner at Pashman Stein Walder Hayden, P.C. in Hackensack, N.J. He included a Sept. 13 state court judgment against Pina that orders him to pay nearly $1 million in a debt lawsuit in which he never defended himself.
All told, Hofmeister’s efforts weren’t enough to persuade Judge Gambardella that the eight people who say they’re owed money are after Pina’s companies for the wrong reasons. She rejected the dismissal motion in October and appointed Mark Politan as the trustee in charge of Whairhouse LLC. She also appointed Politan as trustee for Taylor Court Apartments LLC and Whairhouse Real Estate Investments, LLC, the companies Jennifer Pina petitioned into bankruptcy in what the creditors’ lawyer says were bad-faith filings.
As trustee, Politan is to manage the companies’ finances and search for ways to recoup money that was spent on things unrelated to company business and could be used to pay creditors. He has the power to sell assets and to try to force recipients of wrongly spent company money to return the money through bankruptcy filings known as adversary proceedings. Part of this process involves reviewing financial documents associated with the companies that could be in the hands of Pina and Envy, which is why Politan served them with subpoenas.
The subpoenas seek a long list of documents and communications related to Pina’s companies and the recent bankruptcies, including all bank statements between Jan. 1, 2019 and Sept. 30, 2023, all federal and state tax returns between 2018 and 2021, an accounting of all “payments, monies or funds” received and copies of QuickBooks or other accounting software “with passwords and names of outside accounting firms.”
Politan’s Dec. 4 motion to compel includes each subpoenas as an exhibit. The motion says Envy was served with his on Nov. 9, while the Pinas were given their subpoenas on Nov. 10 while meeting with Hofmeister and the trustee’s lawyers, Sari B. Placona and Anthony Sodono, III of McManimon, Scotland & Baumann, LLC.
“Jennifer and Cesar advised they would start to gather the Requested Documents and send them to me. I have yet to receive any responsive documents,” Placona wrote. “After the meeting, I followed up several times via email with Jennifer as to the status of the documents. … No responses were and/or have been received to the Subpoenas to date.”
The motion also says the Pinas haven’t provided insurance for Whairehouse LLC as required, nor have they provided “a list of any and all addresses of each property titled in the Debtor’s name and whether insurance is in place for each real property.”
Judge Gambardella’s order on Wednesday tells them to do so by the close of business on Friday. It also leaves open the possibility that Envy and the Pinas will be subjected to questioning under oath.
“The Trustee reserves the right to compel Cesar Pina, Jennifer Iturralde Pina and Raashaun Casey into this Court to conduct Rule 2004 examinations, if necessary,” according the order, referring to a bankruptcy procedure that allows a person to be deposed if no adversary action has been filed against them
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