The Real Deal New York

Broker’s battle with Joseph Beninati takes new turn

Nathaniel Christian sues Antares co-founder over alleged business interference

June 17, 2014 03:30PM
By Zachary Kussin

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From left:

From left: Nathaniel Christian, 515 West 29th Street and Joseph Beninati

There’s a new chapter in the ongoing battle between boutique brokerage boss Nathaniel Christian and real estate mogul Joseph Beninati.

Christian, the head of commercial firm Nathaniel Christian Group, filed a new lawsuit Thursday in New York State Supreme Court in which he alleges that Beninati and two others interfered with his PicShare business — a location-based photo and video-sharing app. Christian claims Beninati, who runs property firm the Bauhouse Group, and the other defendants falsely claimed to hold a 10 percent stake in PicShare. That claim, Christian alleges, blocked his ability to raise $10 million in capital from investors. It also has helped the defendants tie up legal proceedings, the suit alleges, and thus avoid paying a commission that Christian says he’s owed.

Christian is suing Beninati, as well as Christopher Jones and Daniel Lee, for the $10 million in investment funds he claims he missed out on, as well as $25 million in punitive damages.

This lawsuit comes nearly a year after Christian sued the three men – who are principals at the Real Estate Group – for allegedly stiffing him on a $600,000 commission after Christian brokered the deal for their $24.4 million purchase of a commercial building at 515 West 29th Street. That case is still pending, according to court records.

The property is being converted for residential use, according to previous reports.

In the new suit, Christian asserts that “the Defendants planned, schemed and conspired, and formed the deliberate design, purpose and scheme to deprive the Plaintiff of its ability to raise capital and market [PicShare] for the sole purpose of aiding the Real Estate Group, in which the Defendants are principals, in avoiding the payment of the commission due to the broker.”

The defendants allegedly knew that Christian was in negotiations with investors to raise the $10 million, according to the suit.

“By making the false claim that they are 10% partners in the … entity, they would effectively block the Plaintiff from soliciting investments in the Plaintiff or from taking any other steps to market and/or expand the Plaintiff’s business,” says the lawsuit.

“The complaints entered by my lawyers with the NY Supreme Court and with the District Attorney’s office speak for themselves,” Christian told TRD in a written statement.

The argument over ownership of PicShare stems largely from an email Christian sent earlier to Beninati. Christian claims the defendants forged the message. The email thanks the three Real Estate Group principals for taking the time to learn about PicShare.

But Christian claims the defendants added the words “I look forward to our partnership” to the email.

Christian hired criminal attorney Jonathan Sims of Siegle & Sims L.L.P. to look into the authenticity of the message by looking into his computer, cloud documentation and metadata.

“It is apparent that said email was altered for the purpose of attempting to bolster Defendants’ counterclaims,” Sims concluded in a March letter to Christian’s attorney , adding that they were prepared to submit their findings to the District Attorney’s office. The DA’s office declined comment on this matter.

In a motion dated just several days after Sims’ letter was addressed, the defendants filed a motion to replace the “incorrect version” of this correspondence, court records show. “The current [exhibit] is not correct because it contains or consists of my interpretation or understanding of an email from one of the plaintiffs,” Beninati writes in court records. “My interpretation was intended for my attorneys in this case.”

“In exchange for the advice and contact information provided by Beninati, Lee, and Jones, Christian promised that he would make them 10% equity owners of PicShare,” the defendants originally wrote in a November countersuit.

Beninati — who co-founded the now defunct Antares Investment Partners — could not be reached for comment. Jones and Lee could also not be reached. An attorney for the defendants did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Christian’s attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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