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Motion could clear the way for eviction of Role Models

May 23, 2002|BY SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

The PenMar Development Corp. has filed a motion in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in an attempt to evict its tenant, Role Models America Inc., from land on the former Fort Ritchie U.S. Army base, PenMar Board Chairman Brett Wilson said Wednesday.

Role Models, a military-style academy for high school dropouts, on May 10 filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, which frees it from the threat of creditors' lawsuits while it reorganizes its finances.

As a result of Role Models' bankruptcy filing, PenMar and Army officials delayed a ceremony planned for May 20 at which they were to sign a deed transferring 236 acres from Army ownership to PenMar.

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Role Models and PenMar have been involved in a series of legal disputes.

As a result of one ongoing dispute, Role Models' bankruptcy filing put a stay on any action PenMar might take against Role Models, including eviction, Wilson said.

Monday's filing in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Greenbelt, Md., asks that the stay be lifted. Since March 2000, Role Models has subleased 253,000 square feet from PenMar for about $1.3 million a year.

Wilson said he thinks the eviction attempt will succeed.

But Role Models President Robert Alexander said he was "very confident" Role Models would not be evicted.

"I am sure we are going to never leave Fort Ritchie. We were brought here by destiny to serve a productive purpose," Alexander said.

Instead of focusing on education, he has to fight "nuisances" caused by PenMar, he said.

The motion contended Role Models violated the sublease by failing to pay rent and utility expenses on more than one occasion.

Alexander said Role Models should not have to pay some rent and utility expenses because it has been unable to use about 100,000 square feet of the 253,000 square feet it is leasing. He said that is the case because PenMar has refused to make improvements and repairs needed for occupancy.

Alexander said PenMar owes $1.8 million in reimbursement for not making the improvements.

Wilson denied that PenMar owes Role Models anything. He has said PenMar will make repairs when Role Models specifies what work needs to be done.

PenMar filed suit May 15 claiming Role Models currently owes a $329,874 quarterly rent payment and $34,874 in utility payments. The bankruptcy filing blocks that legal action.

Alexander said that claim is negated by the $1.8 million he believes PenMar owes Role Models.

Alexander has said Role Models should have been notified it was possible under federal law to get the Fort Ritchie property at no cost because it was being used for an educational facility. Wilson has said it was not PenMar's responsibility to notify Role Models of the law.

That allegation was previously part of a July 2001 federal lawsuit in which Role Models sought a temporary restraining order to block the Army from transferring property to PenMar, Alexander said.

A judge refused to issue the restraining order, and the case is in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.

Alexander also alleges that PenMar illegally backdated its articles of incorporation, which Wilson also denies.

The school has been operating on a two-year, $10 million U.S. Department of Labor grant that Labor officials have said will not be renewed. The grant expires June 30.

Alexander said Tuesday he remains optimistic that the school, which has 40 students, will resume operations this summer with private funding. He said he has received promises of funding, but nothing has been confirmed.

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