A general contractor is accusing a member of the Soros clan of conspiracy — conspiracy to commit fraud, that is, by requesting work on a West Village project that was to be undone after city inspectors signed off.
A lawsuit filed Thursday by Steven Waehler of WG Project Management alleges that Andrea Soros Colombel — daughter of billionaire George Soros, a funder of liberal causes and target of right-wing conspiracy theorists — and her husband Eric Colombel have been withholding payment in retaliation for the contractor’s refusal to perform illegal work on their property.
The suit claims that a representative of the owners, Gary Trias of Trias Management Services, instructed Waehler to install temporary drywall between the adjacent buildings at 243 and 245 West 4th Street, which was to be removed after the Department of Buildings had inspected the properties and issued certificates of occupancy.
The contractor seeks payment that it believes “is being withheld in retaliation for WGPM’s refusal to perform illegal work at the specific direction of the Doves’ Nest and/or its agent and representative,” the lawsuit states. Doves’ Nest NYC Two is the name of the entity through which the Colombels own the property. The Colombels could not be immediately reached for comment.
The plaintiffs accuse the couple of breach of contract, unjust enrichment and conspiracy to commit fraud. In addition to at least $435,000 in damages, Waehler’s firm is seeking to foreclose on a mechanic’s lien it placed on the property this month.
Work on the two four-story buildings has been ongoing for more than a decade. In 2009, two separate plans were filed with the DOB to convert 243 and 245 West 4th Street into single-family homes. No plan has been filed to combine the homes, which were a two-family house and a five-unit apartment building.
WGPM, which became involved with the project as the owner’s representative in 2013, became its third general contractor early last year, and Trias replaced it as the owner’s rep, the lawsuit states.
The previous general contractors had been terminated because of “extensive delays, slow progress and excessive costs” which WGPM says were in fact mainly caused by “constant design changes from Andrea and Eric that significantly delayed completion.”
In 2012 the New York Daily News reported that a brick wall collapsed at the property, disrupting traffic in the area. Later that year the couple listed their townhouse at 10 West 10th Street for sale, asking $29.5 million. It sold for $20 million in 2015, property records show.
The lawsuit explains the contractor’s version of events as follows:
WGPM’s work at the adjacent properties began well enough, and the company’s first payment application for $220,179.60 was paid in full. Its second payment request was only partially filled because of a “paperwork issue.” Then the dispute over potentially illegal work occurred.
The two buildings were connected by a number of “construction convenience openings,” which the owners wanted to be closed with “sheetrock [a.k.a. drywall] and metal stud construction.”
Although the project’s architect of record noted that masonry construction was required and that drywall would be illegal and not code-compliant, the owner’s representative ignored these warnings.
“Trias stated that it would be very unlikely that a [DOB] inspector would notice the violation during the final walkthrough to obtain a CO,” and “also noted that a masonry wall would be much harder to remove after a DOB inspection, which Trias admitted was Andrea and Eric’s ultimate and, as contemplated by them, illegal, intention,” the lawsuit says.
WGPM says it declined to proceed with this allegedly illegal construction, but did the work otherwise required by the contract. The contractor submitted several more payment applications, deducting $9,300 for the work that it had declined to do, but these were ignored.
“Although WGPM had the same problem that its predecessor general contractors had, i.e. a constantly shifting scope of work and continual design changes, WGPM satisfactorily completed the contract,” its lawsuit says.
Andrea Colombel is Soros’ second child from his first marriage, to Annaliese Witschak, and founder of the Trace Foundation, an organization supporting Tibetan communities in China that suspended most of its activities a few years ago. Her husband Eric is the founder and president of the Tsadra Foundation, a nonprofit that funds the study and practice of Tibetan Buddhism in the west.