Thursday, March 18, 2004

Empire fiasco's principal sues city

By Gregory Korte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

DOWNTOWN - LaShawn R. Pettus-Brown, under federal indictment on charges of defrauding Cincinnati taxpayers out of $184,172 on his failed Empire Theater project, has filed a $1 million lawsuit against the city.

Pettus-Brown, 27, claims the city intentionally steered the project into default by failing to provide "appropriate assistance to achieve the goals of the project."

He also said he had investors lined up for the Empire Theater project - until the city accused Pettus-Brown of fraud and scared them away. Because the publication of those allegations caused the project to go into default, the city breached the contract, Pettus-Brown said.

The lawsuit, filed last week but served on the city Tuesday, is part of a foreclosure proceeding on the Empire Theater's Vine Street site.

It was filed by attorney Kenneth L. Lawson, who is also representing Pettus-Brown on federal criminal charges that he used the city money on rap concerts and other personal expenses when he was supposed to be renovating the 89-year-old Empire Theater into a modern nightclub.

Lawson did not return calls seeking comment.

Pettus-Brown faces two counts of theft of government funds, three counts of wire fraud and three counts of money laundering.

City officials were baffled by Pettus-Brown's lawsuit.

"I don't think the city was Mr. Brown's problem. He had other problems," Mayor Charlie Luken said Wednesday. "It's weird that you would try to help somebody, and they would sue you for trying to help them by asking questions about what you were doing with the money you gave them."

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