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With all the pieces in place, Arlando Inc. applied on April 27, 1998, to Lambert's Contracts Administration Office for certification as a DBE. After an investigation, including interviews with Mischeaux and Tucci, DBE program officer Robert Salarano recommended rejecting the application. On paper, Mischeaux had both majority ownership and control of the company, but Salarano was concerned about the source of Mischeaux's financing. "Kim arranged the loan for Arlando through his own banker, and that loan was Arlando's investment in the company. He had no money of his own," says Jack Thomas, current manager of the airport's DBE program.
Mischeaux says the rejection surprised Tucci because Tucci had discussed the opportunity with his friends, Boykins and airport director Leonard Griggs, before starting Arlando Inc. Tucci, Mischeaux says, blamed Mayor Clarence Harmon for the rejection.
"Kim put pressure on Harmon through Clay, Banks, Martie Aboussie and anyone else he knew to get us approved," Mischeaux says. "I got my uncle, Charles Mischeaux, then the NAACP president, to write a letter to Harmon, too."
In March 1999, Jack Thomas took over the airport's DBE program from Salarano. Tucci became optimistic about getting the DBE certification, Mischeaux says. "He said Jack owed him a favor." And sure enough, on April 27, 1999, the airport authority certified Arlando Inc. as a DBE. Thomas insists he didn't do Tucci any favors and that the decision to approve Arlando Inc. wasn't even his. "A lawyer in the city counselor's office told us to recommend approval, that the sort of arrangement where Kim got the loan for Arlando is common in business," he says. "Besides, Arlando was the one on the hook for the loan, not the company."
With the DBE certification finally in hand, Mischeaux began the lengthy process of negotiating a lease with Host, designing the restaurant and getting the necessary building permits.
Tucci groomed Mischeaux for his future position. He sent Mischeaux through the Pasta House management-training program and gave him experience managing various stores. But he also reorganized the company, expanding the board of directors of Arlando Inc. to three -- Mischeaux, Tucci and Ferrara -- and giving the board veto power over Mischeaux's ability to sell his stock. Mischeaux, still trusting Tucci, says he relied on Pasta House lawyers for his legal advice.
On June 27, 2001, Arlando Inc. opened its airport Pasta House. In its first month, the restaurant did more than $199,000 in business. "You expect to start out slow, but we were already on track to meet our projections of $2.5 million a year in sales. At the same spot, Host had had sales of $1.5 million a year," Mischeaux says proudly.
Then the trouble began.
"Kim called me down to his office and said he was going to reassign me to another store. The next day, I told him if that's what he wanted, OK ... I wasn't happy, but I didn't want to blow the opportunity of ownership. This store was going to make millions."
For the next month, Mischeaux says, he split his time between the airport and the Pasta House's Clock Tower restaurant on West Florissant Avenue.
On Sept. 6, Mischeaux says, he got another call to see Tucci at his office, this time at 10:30 the next morning.
There, Mischeaux says, he was told he was losing the store. Pasta House would return his $45,000 franchise fee in 12 monthly payments, but only if Mischeaux agreed not to take any action against Pasta House and left his name on everything at the airport.
"Luther Boykins was at the table," Mischeaux says. "He said he wanted to be the owner, but I had the [restaurant] experience" that had been necessary to get certification.
Mischeaux says he refused the deal, and Tucci told him to turn in his keys, his badge and his parking card, then warned him to stay away from the airport. "Knowing Kim, I took it very seriously and never made any attempt to go out there," Mischeaux says. "I'm not going to risk my life or risk arrest by making a scene."
Boykins calls Mischeaux's story "the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard. I have no interest in any Pasta House restaurant at the airport. No one ever brought it to me to have an interest in it ... I like Arlando, but I'm surprised he would say something like that."
Tucci insists that Mischeaux was not a frontman; rather he lost the franchise because "he has personal problems, which I can't talk about, and needs help." Tucci adds the bank called in its loan, and Mischeaux couldn't pay it. That, of course, was the loan Tucci secured for him, the same loan that had caused Salarano to question whether Arlando Inc. was a bona fide DBE.
Mischeaux -- the sole black stockholder at Arlando Inc. -- was stripped of his franchise by his white partners just three weeks before Mayor Francis Slay fired longtime civil-rights activist Percy Green and the rest of Green's minority-certification staff. Slay put Jack Thomas and Lambert in charge of all DBE certifications for the city, saying the airport did a better job. "We were more confident with the airport's process," Slay said [Peter Downs, "No Mercy for Percy," Oct. 3]. Green complained that Slay's move would make it easier for front companies to do business.