An angry legal battle has erupted between Stony Creek “Island Lady” Christine Svenningsen and her ex-husband over fraud, theft, inflated landscaping bills, work not performed and even holding boats and automobiles hostage.
A litany of charges and soon-to-be counter charges between the recently divorced couple came steaming up from the pages of a 41-page complaint filed last month in U.S. District Court in White Plains, N.Y.
At issue was not the recent ending of their marriage (they were officially divorced on January 16, 2014) but the dissolution of their costly business arrangement.
Svenningsen married John G. Chiarella, Jr., her landscaping entrepreneur, on June 26, 2010, at her home on Rogers Island, a 7.75-acre hideaway with a 27-room Tudor-style mansion built in 1902. It contains tennis courts, a swimming pool, a golf course and elaborate formal gardens. (Click here to read about the wedding.)
Chiarella’s company had been overseeing the landscaping and care of Svenningsen’s nine Thimble Islands along with her other properties in New York and Vermont since 2006. Indeed, three months before their fairy tale wedding, Svenningsen signed a $5.76 million contract with Chiarella’s company, Ultimate Professional Grounds Management, Inc., of Wolcott, Connecticut. The date was March 8, 2010.
Now Svenningsen has taken her ex-hub to federal court, charging him and his companies with a host of allegations, including a failure to pay state sales taxes. She also asserts that over the years he charged for work not performed, grossly inflated labor hours, grossly inflated the costs of materials and improperly billed $600,000 for ‘‘property manager” fees. She also cites negligence in a variety of areas.The Thimbles she now owns are listed by their names under her name as “real estate plaintiffs” in the lawsuit.
Adding insult to injury, Svenningsen’s attorney asserts that Chiarella’s company has refused to return a long list of personal property, “until she pays $800,000 that Ultimate Professional falsely claims is due to it, effectively holding that property hostage.” The lawsuit also alleges that Chiarella and his brother, Domenic, overcharged Svenningen by about $3 million over the years and they haven’t stopped yet. Svenningsen is represented by Armando E. Batastini and Nicole Mastropieri of Nixon Peabody, a well-known Manhattan law firm.
In its initial response, Chiarella’s attorney Karen A. Jockimo noted that Svenningsen herself “served as Chief Operation Officer for one of the defendant business entities.” Jockimo does not name the business entity but lays a foundation for Svenningsen’s involvement in the company, a position she apparently held until 2011.
Richard Corde, of Boeggeman, George & Corde of White Plains, Chiarella’s primary attorney, told the New York Daily News this week that the allegations of being cheated by his client are “meritless.”
The property that Svenningsen is demanding be returned to her includes eight boat trailers, seven boats, two pedal boats and one 40-foot steel barge. She says the company has also “detained” four Boston Whalers, a cement mixer and various drills and saws Besides boats, her ex’s company has “detained some registrations and titles” for eight automobiles, including a 1995 Dodge Intrepid and a 2008 Land Rover RRV.
Corde did acknowledge to the Daily News that Chiarella had been holding onto “some” of her vehicles, but only because she had been refusing to pay for the work he had done on them. “She owes him money,” he said, adding he plans to file a countersuit.
Svenningsen terminated Chiarella’s business services in late 2013 and again in 2014, the complaint says, by communicating to him that he should not provide any services in 2014. She says that even though she ended her business relationship with Ultimate Professional, she still received invoices from the company under the rationale that she was bound by a 2010 contract rider that “contained an automatic renewal clause.” The automatic renewal clause was triggered because Svenningsen had not terminated the 2010 contract, the company claims.
The issues are made more complicated because Ultimate Professional Grounds Management was in 2010 the now-dissolved Ultimate Services Professional Grounds Management, Inc. The new company, with its slightly altered name, has the same clients, location and operation of business.
According to the complaint, Svenningsen only recently discovered in March that the Ultimate Services was overcharging her.The complaint says Svenningsen sought her former husband’s business papers “as part of severing the business relationship between plaintiffs and defendants” after their divorce. She maintains he “stonewalled” her requests. She finally retrieved some of those papers in March, 2014, the complaint says.
Overall, the complaint lists 23 alleged violations. At its conclusion the complaint observes that since the Chiarella brothers are shareholders of the dissolved Ultimate Services company, each is “personally liable” for all of company’s “illegal conduct.”
Svenningsen also asks that she be awarded treble damages under New York and Vermont law as well as punitive damages and attorneys’ fees.