The latest filing in a lawsuit against the former owner of Java Detour and Lisa Vanderpump and Ken Todd, the owners of the P.U.M.P. lounge that is slated to open in its place this week, alleges the owner has lied about his investments in everything from Grauman’s Chinese Theatre to popular clubs such as Roxbury and Supperclub.
The suit was filed last August by Andrew Gruver and Ryan Carrillo, former employees of The Abbey. Gruver and Carrillo allege that Elie Samaha promised them he would invest $500,000 in a gay sports bar they hoped to open on the Java Detour site, which Samaha owned. They said that, based on Samaha’s promise, they quit their jobs and invested time and money in convincing the City of West Hollywood to grant special permission to operate a nightclub on that property, which is on the southeast corner of Santa Monica and Robertson boulevards. That permit significantly increased its value. Once they obtained it, they said, Samaha turned around and leased the property for a much higher amount to Vanderpump and Todd. Gruver and Carrillo are seeking $4 million in damages in the suit in which they allege Vanderpump and Todd “intended to disrupt the performance of the (existing) agreement” for the property.
Samaha and his business partner and nephew, Freddy Braidy, have denied the allegations. In a counterclaim they said they raised the $500,000 required in their deal with Gruver and Carillo, who they say didn’t follow through on their commitment to raise additional money. Vanderpump issued a statement after the August filing saying she and her husband were not involved in any way in the matter and that, in fact, she didn’t know Gruver or Carrillo. However, later online postings of photos showed them in public together.
In a transcript of a TV interview that was included in papers filed last week, Samaha brags that he has a stake in at least 11 restaurants and clubs clustered on Hollywood and Sunset boulevards. They include the Roxbury, the Playhouse, La Vida, The Writer’s Room, Hemingway’s Lounge and Pig N’Whistle. He also says he is a co-owner of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre and the Two Bunch Palms resort in Desert Hot Springs, reputed to have been built in the 1920s by Al Capone. The Hollywood Reporter reported in 2012 that Samaha had purchased the 270-acre resort along with real estate investor Gidi Cohen and producers Steve Markoff and Donald Kushner, who it identified as Samaha’s partners in the purchase of the Chinese Theatre.
Samaha made the claim in an interview with Karen Boustany, a Lebanese reporter for MTV, that was posted in April last year on YouTube.
But in an examination of Samaha that same year by a lawyer whose client was suing him for $421,000 in unpaid legal fees, Samaha denied ownership of some of those properties and said he owned a miniscule percentage of some of the others.
“I was never an owner of the Chinese Theatre,” he told Beverly Johnson, the lawyer representing Quinn, Emanuel, Urquhart & Sullivan, the law firm suing Samaha. Samaha said he didn’t know if he owned a stake in the Two Palms property.
“The documents that you said you signed, did you read them?” the lawyer asked, querying Samaha about Two Palms. “I don’t recall because I don’t read documents,” Samaha replied.
In 2012 a judge ordered that Samaha pay his debt to Quinn, Emanuel at a hearing at which Samaha failed to appear.
Samaha told the judge in that case that he hadn’t earned any money in five years and had $10 million in debt. In 2000 Samaha and his film production company, Franchise Pictures, were sued for breach of contract and fraud by German film distributor Intertainment. A court awarded Intertainment $122 million damages. Franchise Pictures was ordered to pay $1 million of that, and it went into bankruptcy. Samaha was ordered to pay Intertainment $4 million.
Samaha, 59, has produced more than 80 films and video games. His only award-winner was “Battlefield Earth: A Saga of the Year 3000.” The film, which was based on a novel by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard and starred John Travolta, won a Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Picture.
Gruver and Carrillo allege in their latest filing that Samaha is not broke but has shifted all of his assets, including ownership of the Java Detour property, to his sister, Carol Braidy. Samaha says his sister has been paying his bills, which amount to $20,000 to $25,000 a month, including the mortgage on the house he owns on Longridge Avenue in Sherman Oaks.
Last summer Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department deputies removed valuables from the house, including 1,600 bottles of wine, which may be sold to pay some portion of Samaha’s debt. Mindy Simon, an interior designer who Samaha has identified as his girlfriend, last fall filed a claim for the return of some of the property. Among the items she sought to retrieve were a 1965 Domaines Baron de Rothschild Chateau Lafite wine worth $1,200 and a bottle of Gekkian sake worth $45.