“The National Black Theater has been part of the cultural foundation of Harlem for more than 40 years. Unfortunately, nefarious business practices and eventual abandonment by our investor group, Nubian Heritage, now threaten our property and our community programming. Our 8-year relationship with Nubian began with such promise, but quickly became a dangerous drain our financial resources. This group continually took advantage of our commitment to African American entrepreneurship and our advocacy on behalf of our friends. Yet we refuse to allow our community to be victimized. The outpouring of support we have received inspires and motivates us to continue to fight to move past this ordeal so that we may continue to serve the Harlem community.”
The dough must go on: Live it up Business Pair Sinking Theater
Two Liberian immigrants who got their start selling soap on the streets of Harlem are living large, with a booming beauty-products business, homes in a pricey Long Island suburb and luxury vehicles in their driveways.
But along the way, business partners Richelieu Dennis and Nyema Tubman defaulted on more than $1 million in taxpayer-funded loans, failed to pay more than $450,000 in state and federal taxes, and decimated the finances of a Harlem cultural institution.
The nonprofit National Black Theater, which partnered with the two men, claims the entrepreneurs spent money from a $6.5 million loan meant for renovations to the theater building on their own business ventures.
Property taxes on the 64,000-square-foot building on Fifth Avenue in Harlem went unpaid. And the bank that loaned the money started to foreclose on the property.
“They lied to us and said they were in good standing when they took out the loan. They defrauded us by doing this,” said Michael Lythcott, son of Barbara Ann Teer, who founded the National Black Theater.
Meanwhile, Dennis and Tubman have expanded their businesses — including their Nubian Heritage soaps and lotions — which did a reported $10 million in sales in 2008.
The parent company, called Sundial Creations, has a 50,000-square-foot Long Island manufacturing plant and sells its products in Target, Whole Foods and Macy’s.
Dennis, 41, and Tubman, 42, live in homes with swimming pools in Dix Hills. Among the Dennis family cars is a 2011 Audi Q7 an SUV with a base price of $52,250, public records show. Tubman tools around in a 2003 Lincoln Navigator.
The duo teamed up in 2002 with the National Black Theater and Teer, who died in 2008. She started the theater in 1968 to promote black artists and culture, but was in jeopardy of losing the building.
Dennis and Tubman became part owners of the theater building through a joint venture called Nubian Realty and opened a Nubian Heritage products store there.
The two immigrants had roomed together in college and started peddling incense and shea-butter moisturizer on 125th Street in the early 1990s. They made a reported $100,000 in their first year of sidewalk sales and quickly expanded.
The Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone, a taxpayer-funded business development group started by Rep. Charles Rangel, gave Nubian Heritage a loan for $387,500 in 2002 to build its Harlem store. UMEZ loaned the partners another $1 million in 2005 to expand their Internet business.
On Dec. 28, 2006, Nubian Realty took out a $6.5 million loan using the building as collateral.
But by then they had stopped making payments on their first UMEZ loan, according to court documents, and UMEZ had filed suit against Dennis and Tubman on Dec. 11, 2006.
Lythcott says money from the loan went to pay other debt incurred by Dennis and Tubman, including two payments totaling $250,000. A wire transfer of $500,000 in loan funds went to an unknown destination, the theater alleges.
Unbeknownst to the theater, Nubian Properties stopped paying the loan. Nubian Heritage Direct also stopped payments on its $1 million UMEZ loan in 2007 and UMEZ won a judgment against the company.
Craig Albert, a spokesman for Dennis and Tubman, disputed the theater’s version of events and blamed the organization for preventing an Applebee’s restaurant from renting space there.
Join HW Radio Show conversation with Sade Lythcott on March 15th at 6 pm.