Colliers Subpoenas Ex-Wife Of Mattress Firm CEO In Latest Chapter Of Retailers' Fraud Case
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Colliers International is looking to question the former spouse of Mattress Firm CEO Steve Stagner about real estate deals tied to her and possibly her ex-husband, the latest in a legal salvo involving the retailer's allegations of a multi-state real estate fraud scheme.
Colliers filed a motion in Harris County Superior Court to depose Julie Stagner over records and knowledge regarding a number of real estate entities, including ABR Investments, Breck Real Properties, Longmont Properties and RSJS Ventures.
The end game is to discover whether Stagner was himself invested in these real estate deals, which involved retail sites that were home to at least one Mattress Firm competitor, Select Comfort, according to Colliers' attorneys. Lewis Brisbois partner Bill Helfand is leading the team representing the brokerage.
“It appears that Julie Stagner, on her own behalf and, to some degree, perhaps on Steve Stagner's behalf, was involved in transactions like the ones Mattress Firm is suing over,” Helfand said.
Stagner's attorneys filed a motion Thursday to quash the subpoena, citing a scheduling conflict.
Last November, Mattress Firm accused former Colliers International Atlanta executive Alexander Deitch of being one of the ringleaders — along with former Mattress Firm in-house real estate executives Bruce Levy and Ryan Vinson — in a scheme to steer the company toward high-priced real estate in exchange for developer kickbacks and other incentives.
Deitch filed a countersuit earlier this year, claiming Mattress Firm’s aggressive growth strategy and desire to corner the mattress retail market were why it entered into leases that were above market rates, including at times to steal market share from competitors. Mattress Firm’s real estate committee — which was manned by a number of top executives, including Stagner and former CEO Ken Murphy — had full knowledge of those deals and signed off on them, Deitch claimed in the suit.
Calls to Mattress Firm's attorneys were not returned as of press time. Julie Stagner did not immediately respond to emails and calls seeking comment.
The attorneys representing one of the companies Colliers is seeking information about denied Steve Stagner was involved and was attempting to block disclosure of information.
“The whole premise of this discovery, based on the pleadings, assumes there was a real estate transaction to which Steve Stagner and Longmont were parties, but there was no such transaction,” attorneys stated in court documents. “Longmont did one real estate investment deal with one of the defendants, Bruce Levy, acting as 'designee' for ABRS Investment. Steve Stagner was not a party to the real estate transaction. Steve Stagner has no interest in Longmont.”
Helfand said his firm has obtained emails from Julie Stagner's account that reference “Steve's investment” and “Steve's participation,” while not fully identifying who the Steve is in those emails. Helfand did not provide copies of those emails to Bisnow as of press time.
“That's why we need Julie's deposition,” Helfand said.
He said his aim is to prove that Stagner was involved in real estate deals similar to those the retailer is accusing Deitch, Levy and Vinson of being involved in. The defendants in Mattress Firm's lawsuit maintain that Stagner himself was aware of the various real estate arrangements and approved each new Mattress Firm location as part of his leadership of the retailer's real estate committee.
“At the end of the day, it defies credulity, and now it seems the evidence is supporting the fact that Mr. Stagner was aware and authorized transactions that Mattress Firm is now complaining about," Helfand said. "Nobody from Colliers, including Deitch, dictated to Mattress Firm how much to pay in rent. So far, the evidence I've seen [has failed to show] that Mr. Deitch or Mr. Levy or Mr. Vinson did anything illegal.”
UPDATE, JUNE 1, 1:55 P.M. ET: This story has been updated to reflect a motion by Julie Stagner's attorneys to quash Colliers' subpoena.