D.C. Real Estate Tangled Up in Baltimore Pot Bust
In 2006, robbers in Baltimore hit an illicit, big-money poker game and came away with $23,827, including $900 from Baltimore developer Jeremy Landsman. At the time, Landsman insisted to the Baltimore City Paper he wasn't playing for money.
“Everybody knows gambling is illegal,” he told the paper. “And I don’t want to do anything illegal.”
Well, maybe not anything illegal. From 2001 to 2009, prosecutors say, Landsman and associates with nicknames like “Mr. Purple” and “Grump” were part of a $30 million drug trafficking ring that moved Canadian and Californian marijuana around the country, the Baltimore City Paper reported.
According to a plea he signed this June, Landsman rented out his buildings so other conspiracy members would have space to store drugs and money. And what a lot of money it was—a 2009 Drug Enforcement Agency raid on one of Landsman's buildings turned up $20,000 and 100 pounds of weed.
But the developer's misdeeds allegedly aren't just confined to Maryland and the seven other states where the marijuana ended up. Four properties in the District are at the center of a back-and-forth legal battle between Landsman and Remy Esquenet, an attorney he went into business with months after being indicted in December 2010 on federal marijuana distribution and money laundering charges.
"It's a crazy story," says Esquenet.
When the two went into business in early 2011, Landsman was known as an up-and-coming developer involved in managing or owning several Charm City properties, including the concert venue Sonar. Few knew that he had been charged with drug trafficking, though, since an indictment against him from December 2010 was still sealed.
The first sign of trouble for the new partners came when they tried to cosign a $720,000 loan to buy their first building at 1500 Massachusetts Ave. SE. The bank offering the loan wanted to see their 2009 and 2010 tax returns, but Esquenet's court filings say Landsman begged off, saying he needed more time to produce them.
Months went by without Landsman's revised returns, with banks refusing to give them loans until they saw Landsman's taxes, court papers say. Eventually, with their deposit at risk, Esquenet was forced to put himself on the loan as the sole cosigner, while offering Landsman 18.5 percent of the building, with an understanding that his share of the property would increase when he could be added as a cosigner to the loan.
Faced with another loan impasse on a building at 3301 Georgia Ave. NW, Esquenet took out a separate $660,000 loan from a family member that Landsman identifies in court papers as Esquenet's father.
Still, the tax forms never appeared. According to Esquenet's legal filings, there was a simple reason for Landsman's reluctance to hand over the returns: Given his drug and money laundering connections, Landsman had allegedly made the decision that it would be better legally not to file returns with the government rather than be caught falsifying them.
When news of Landsman's indictment and plea broke in February, Esquenet claims his situation in the faltering partnership got even worst. Title insurers sent out a bulletin blacklisting Landsman, according to Esquenet, forcing him to once again raise money separately for properties they had been negotiating for at 2317 Wisconsin Ave. NW and 1400 Pennsylvania Ave. SE.
Landsman's partnership problems extended beyond the missing tax returns, according to Esquenet's court filings. He's also suing Landsman for allegedly cutting $886 in checks to himself from one of their shared accounts and misrepresenting himself, since he hadn't mentioned that his success as a developer had been buttressed by drug money.
As part of his plea deal, Landsman agreed to surrender $200,000 and a Baltimore property to the government. Esquenet doesn't think his own buildings are at risk for forfeiture, since he and Landsman didn't go into business until after Landsman was indicted.
Esquenet wants Landsman to give up his ownership claims in the four D.C. buildings and pay damages. But Landsman, who faces decades in prison at a November sentencing, isn't surrendering his real estate interests quietly.
In a countersuit filed last week, Landsman accuses Esquenet of doing some lying of his own, as well as denying him equity in some of the properties. He claims that Esquenet showed him a bank statement to prove that he had $1 million he could invest in their properties. When Landsman later asked where the money was, Landsman's complaint says Esquenet admitted to using Photoshop to alter the statement.
Landsman's lawyer declined to comment, which is too bad, since you have to wonder what Landsman plans to do with the properties. The most obvious option would be selling them to fund his more serious legal fight with the government.
“I should make it a law school or a business school case study,” Esquenet says.
Marijuana photo by Shutterstock