The Real Deal New York

Sean Ludwick strikes back at ex-BlackHouse partners

Siras principals Sumaida, Verma exploited his personal life, froze him out of projects: lawsuit

March 19, 2015 03:52PM
By Mark Maurer

BlackHouse Development

From left: Sean Ludwick (credit: Briana E. Heard), Soori High Line rendering (credit: Soo K. Chan), Saif Sumaida and Ashwin Verma

UPDATED, March 19, 5:55 p.m.: Sean Ludwick is suing his two former BlackHouse Development partners Saif Sumaida and Ashwin Verma, alleging he was frozen out of joint ventures to develop multiple Manhattan projects.

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in New York State Supreme Court, arrives three weeks after New York-based Chinese development firm Kuafu Properties filed a petition to dissolve its partnership with Sumaida and Verma – now heads of Siras Development – and Ludwick for a 47-story Hudson Rise condo-hotel project in Hudson Yards.

In 2007, Ludwick founded BlackHouse and soon recruited Sumaida and Verma to join as partners.

“Despite their efforts to make it appear otherwise, Defendant Verma has participated in the BlackHouse projects only as an investor and by performing certain administrative tasks, while Sumaida has acted only as an investor and construction manager,” the suit stated.

“Beyond his capacity to access his family’s wealth, Verma served no other functional purpose to the company,” the suit added.

Ludwick is seeking $15 million in damages from them. In the suit, he accuses Sumaida and Verma of taking credit for his work; exploiting circumstances from his personal life; and locking him out of office space that he leased from Sumaida, who is also a principal at development firm Sumaida + Khurana. Ludwick claims that they formed Siras as a scheme to merge three BlackHouse-affiliated entities tied to the Soori High Line project without his consent.

Sumaida and Verma sought to buy out Ludwick for less than a tenth of his investment in the development, the suit stated. He claims, for example, that he was offered $1.5 million for his stake in Soori High Line, though he had an interest in the project worth $18 million.

Verma responded to the allegations with a statement: “The complaint is baseless and also sad and unfortunate. We look forward to setting the record straight and prevailing in court.”

Last year, Siras issued statements saying that Ludwick “has no management rights and is not involved in any day-to-day operations” of the Hudson Rise or Soori High Line projects. Kuafu issued a news release in July announcing the acquisition of the Hudson Yards development site with no mention of Ludwick.

Since last month, Ludwick says he has been entirely excluded from all project communications.

Kuafu’s petition cited “problematic behavior” by Ludwick, including several reported incidents. He pleaded guilty to assault and battery in Martha’s Vineyard as well as second-degree harassment in Manhattan last year. He was also accused of entering his ex-girlfriend’s apartment and creating lewd drawings on murals he had painted.

Late last week, Siras motioned to dismiss Kuafu’s petition, arguing that New York courts lack jurisdiction to dissolve a Delaware-based entity and that their operating agreement requires at least 75 percent of the managers to provide a basis for dissolution, according to court documents.

Zhao Jin, cultural consultant at BlackHouse, said the conflict in Kuafu’s petition stemmed from “cultural differences” between Kuafu and Siras.

“Sean is just a casualty in this process,” Jin said.

Kyna Doles contributed reporting.

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