OC commercial brokerage Argent Retail Advisors files for bankruptcy

Financial distress follows judgment in personal-injury case related to shooting in San Bernardino

Argent Retail's Terence Bortnick (LinkedIn, iStock)
Argent Retail's Terence Bortnick (LinkedIn, iStock)

Argent Retail Advisors, a commercial brokerage based in Orange County, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy years after the company was hit with a lawsuit related to a fatal shooting in San Bernardino.

“The bankruptcy filing has nothing to do with Argent’s business operations whatsoever,” said Corey Taylor, an attorney representing Argent.

The financial distress instead appears to be connected to pending claims against the company related to a personal-injury lawsuit that links the company to the shooting six years ago at a hookah lounge in the Inland Empire city.

Taylor declined to answer further questions about the case. Terence Bortnick, the president of Argent Retail Advisors, did not respond to a request for comment.

Argent filed for bankruptcy status on Monday in California’s Central District federal bankruptcy court, according to court records. The filing indicates that Argent has fewer than 50 creditors and estimated liabilities of between $500,000 and $1 million. It also says that Argent has estimated assets of between $500,000 and $1 million, and that funds will be available to unsecured creditors.

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Two creditors, Cynthia Johnson and Debbie Lawler, appear together on Argent’s bankruptcy filing alongside two unsecured claims of $1 million each. Those claims are listed as disputed.

In 2016, Lawler sued Argent, along with several other defendants, in a personal injury case in San Bernardino civil court that stemmed from a fatal shooting outside a hookah lounge in the city two years earlier. Three men — including a 26-year-old named Kavin Johnson and a 21-year-old named David Lawler — were killed in the incident, which occurred late on a Friday night outside Ahalena Hookah Lounge.

Debbie Lawler’s subsequent civil case named Travon Stokes, the suspected shooter, along with the hookah lounge, Argent, a development company and other corporate entities. Court records indicate that most of the defendants were dismissed from the case, but that a default judgment was entered against Argent in 2019.

Argent Retail Advisors was founded in 2008 and is based in Mission Viejo, according to one press release. Last July the firm brokered one $4.8 million sale of a former restaurant in Moreno Valley; the next month it arranged a 10-year lease agreement in a shopping center in Hacienda Heights.

It’s unclear exactly how active the firm has been lately, however. Its website and Instagram pages appear to be dark, and Bortnick, the president, has moved on to a different firm, along with another former Argent agent. Taylor, the attorney, said the brokerage is “in the process of winding down.”