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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Antonio French Sued Over Nonprofit's Unpaid Bills

Posted By on Tue, Feb 21, 2017 at 12:33 PM

click to enlarge Antonio French. - CAMPAIGN PHOTO
  • Antonio French.

For the second time in a month, the nonprofit organization founded by Alderman Antonio French is being sued over a billing dispute.

The most recent lawsuit was filed in St. Louis City Circuit Court last Wednesday. It alleges that French and his North Campus Partnership promised to pay a company called WCS Catering LLC, but stiffed it on an $11,305 bill.

North Campus Partnership is modeled on the Harlem Children's Zone, aiming to provide a host of services to underprivileged youth. Its contract with WCS called for the caterer to supply meals in bulk on a daily basis from September 2016 to May 2017.

WCS alleges that it never got a dime. It's now suing French as an individual, as well as the North Campus Partnership, for the meals it provided from September through November 7.

French said he was unaware of the suit until contacted by the RFT (he has not yet been served, records show). He says he had been aware of WCS' complaints, and was working behind the scenes to resolve them.

He questions whether politics played a part in the decision to sue. French is running for mayor of St. Louis — and picked up a key endorsement Saturday from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The surprise backing suddenly has him in the hot seat.

French also notes that WCS is suing him personally instead of just the nonprofit he founded. The owner of WCS is backing a different mayoral candidate. "The only reason I'd be personally named and singled out in this lawsuit is probably because of politics," French says.

French blames a previous story tied to his campaign for the source of the dispute. Last fall, the St. Louis Business Journal reported that the IRS had revoked North Campus Partnership's nonprofit status the year before after the organization failed to file its annual reports. French has described the action as a "misunderstanding" and notes the organization is properly registered with the Missouri Secretary of State. Still, the story caused the nonprofit to lose a major donor, which created a cashflow problem — and that led to the problem with WCS, he says.

"North Campus has never had big bucks," he says. "I've never accepted a salary, and this is my fifth year trying to keep this thing going. It's tough. And very often, to keep it going, I've had to write checks from my own money."

The suit joins one filed on January 20 by a company called Vision Property LLC, which also names both French and North Campus Partnership as defendants. Vision Property alleges that North Campus contracted with it on three separate engineering projects. The suit alleges that the nonprofit didn't pay up and now owes it $165,000.

French says the company at first agreed to do the project for $50,000, but later tried to triple that amount. At that point, he says, North Campus had no choice. "They hoped to leverage politics to get more money than they deserve," he says. "We said, 'We'll just have to go to court.'"

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