Ownership of this bank-turned-nightclub at the corner of Fourth Avenue and B Street is under dispute.
Ali Nilforshan says he will be taking back 4th&B, the downtown venue he owned from 2003 to 2009. The current owners, Vince and Judy Puma, say that is not going happen.
Nilforshan says he sold the business to the Pumas in early 2009, and the deal was that the Pumas would pay off part of the purchase amount in payments. “They stopped paying me after three months.” Nilforshan says it is in their agreement that if the payments aren’t made, then the question of ownership would be decided by arbitration. “I asked for an arbitration hearing a little over a month ago,” says Nilforshan. “We are waiting for the date.”
Vince Puma says not so fast. He calls attention to a $1.2-million SBA loan that Nilforshan took out to remodel 4th&B before the Pumas were involved. Because of the action to recover the money for that loan, Vince Puma says, “We have it in writing from the bank not to pay Ali anymore.”
Nilforshan agrees that he is being pursued for repayment of the SBA loan. “They are coming after me because Vince Puma didn’t make payments. This is a loan he assumed. I have it in writing that when they took over, they assumed all the debts, which includes that SBA loan.”
Puma disagrees: “We were held harmless for that loan. We did not assume that loan.”
Nilforshan, with the blessing of his attorney Sean Simpson, says he will provide the sale agreement for a third party to inspect. Puma says he will provide the communication from the bank telling him to stop paying Nilforshan after he checks with his attorney.
Puma says he was making payments to Nilforshan “for close to a year before we were told by the bank they were going to repossess.”
“They can take equipment, but they can’t take the business,” says Puma. “And we control the liquor license.”
The Department of Alcohol Beverage Control website shows that 4th&B’s liquor license is owned by Speth Brothers Inc., named after 4th&B founder Bob Speth. That website lists three corporate officers — the Pumas and chief financial officer George Salameh.
Puma says Nilforshan “doesn’t own any part of Speth Brothers [Inc.].”
“I was brought in as a managing partner,” says Salameh who now manages a restaurant. “They used me to help them qualify to get a loan to buy 4th&B. They had no management experience. Once they got the loan they decided they didn’t need me anymore. I was blackballed.”
Salameh, who was with 4th&B for seven months, says he has filed a lawsuit against the Pumas. “He always had an ulterior motive,” says Salameh. “He has not been clean with any of us. He bullied me out of that place. It almost got physical one time.”
Vince Puma: “George was supposed to come in with one-third of the money, and he did not put in one penny. My wife ran the fleet department at McCune Chrysler Jeep for 20 years. She has plenty of managerial experience.”
Judy Puma says that she “worked at McCune for about 13 to 14 years. I did not ‘run’ the fleet department, but I did sell and manage all of my deals that went through the fleet department, which was a large share of the business that did give me the managerial skills I needed. Plus, I have my own business that I have had for about 12 years...a clothing company.”
Speth, who now lives in Colorado, was contacted on his boat in a Florida marina last week. “I have heard about all this, but that’s their battle to fight. I’m out of the business. When I retired, I took my payout in cash.”
Speth says he doesn’t want to get involved now. “I don’t have anything in the game.... But, it’s all about who controls the liquor license and whose name the lease is in.”
Speth says the current rent on the building “is three or four times what I was paying.” An insider says rent for 4th&B is $29,000 a month.