Florida Record

Sunday, September 22, 2019

City of Jacksonville files breach of contract suit against councilwoman

By April Brown | Mar 17, 2017

Councilwoman Katrina Brown, District 8 | http://www.coj.net/city-council/city-council-members/d08.aspx

JACKSONVILLE — The city of Jacksonville recently filed suit against two companies co-owned by Councilwoman Katrina Brown and her mother, JoAnn Brown, claiming a breach of contract.

Named in the suit are CoWealth LLC and Basic Products LLC, citing a failure to fulfill requirements agreed upon in a 2011 redevelopment plan that were aimed at creating new jobs for the community, the Florida Times-Union reported.

As part of the agreement, CoWealth LLC received $210,549 in grants for the purchase of the building at Commonwealth Avenue, along with renovations and equipment, for the Jerome Brown BBQ plant. In exchange, CoWealth promised to create 56 permanent jobs that were sustainable for a period of 24 months. CoWealth received the money, but failed to produce the jobs.

The suit was filed as a result of the companies’ failure to comply with conditions set forth in a final notice dated Dec. 2, 2016 from the Office of Economic Development. The letter, signed by Executive Director Kirk Wendland, asked for back loan payments for both November and December and late fees totaling $3,956.61; as well as unpaid property taxes for 2015 in the amount of $22,515.69. The letter also requested submission of all past due annual reports and Guarantor tax returns.

The letter stated that “[i]f all of the above conditions have not been met by Dec. 31, 2016, we will direct the Office of General Counsel to file litigation and use all legal remedies available to cover the city’s investment.”

The official legal complaint was filed by the Office of General Counsel on Feb. 7, 2017, citing breach of contract of the Redevelopment Agreement against both CoWealth LLC and Basic Products LLC. The complaint details five separate written attempts to cure the defaults via certified mail beginning in May 2016, with no response. The agreement says that the city “has been damaged” by this breach of contract. The city is seeking to recover the funds granted as part of the redevelopment plan, the Florida Times-Union reported.

The Florida Record reached out to the Office of General Counsel for comment. Public Information Officer Tia Ford said only that “we do not have any information to provide regarding pending litigation.”

Councilwoman Brown is no stranger to controversy. In addition to the pending lawsuit from the city, the building listed at Commonwealth Avenue in the complaint was raided last December by agents from federal agencies including the FBI, IRS and the Small Business Administration, who were reported to have taken evidence from the facility. Brown is also part of a foreclosure suit involving property associated with CoWealth and KJB Enterprises, another business that she co-owns.

During the 2015 election, Brown faced scrutiny associated with overdue property taxes owed on the barbecue plant.

Repeated attempts by the Florida Record to reach Councilwoman Brown for comment have gone unanswered.

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