DOCUMENT: Celebrity

Deadbeat Rap: Jay-Z Stiffs Contractors

Contractors claim Jay-Z passed bad checks, owes $40k

NOVEMBER 6--The swanky nightclub owned by the rapper Jay-Z has stiffed three small contractors who worked at the Manhattan hotspot prior to its star-studded June opening, The Smoking Gun has learned.

Two of the companies have already filed separate lawsuits against the musician's 40/40 Club and the third firm is in the process of serving its legal papers. The businesses--Ameribuild Construction Management, Ronald Mark Associates, and SM Lighting Design--are chasing Jay-Z for a combined $46,000 in unpaid bills. Two of the businesses have complained of receiving rubber checks from Twenty Ones, Inc., the multimillionaire entertainer's company.

Ronald Mark Associates was to be paid $18,000 for the manufacture of about 30 custom tables for Jay-Z's joint. After receiving a $5000 down payment, the company demanded the outstanding $13,000 balance shortly before the club's debut. After stalling about a week, the club overnighted a check (for half the amount owed) to Ronald Mark. It bounced.

Club employees have since ducked phone calls, said Leslie Satz, Ronald Mark's chief executive. "No one's done what these guys did. They played off the Jay-Z name and reputation and then tried to bully us," Satz said. "My theory is that because of who he is, they think you'll feel blessed to have your stuff there." The company has filed a Civil Court lawsuit seeking $13,108.

In a New York State Supreme Court lawsuit, Ameribuild Construction alleges it is owed $8114 for "management services" and supplies like lumber and drywall provided to the 40/40 Club in January and February. Jay-Z's company "has failed and refused to pay" its bill, according to the Ameribuild complaint.

George Merich, co-owner of SM Lighting Design, said that a club manager gave him an $8145 check in February, but it bounced. After first being assured, "Oh, it's an accounting thing," Merich told TSG that he never received another payment. Noel Blair, the company's attorney, said he is in the process of filing a Civil Court action seeking $25,000 (the figure represents $16,000 in unpaid bills as well as damages and legal costs).

State Liquor Authority records show that the club's check-bouncing ways have not been limited to contractors. Jay-Z & Co. actually gave the SLA a bad $8914 check when applying last year for a liquor license. Making matters worse, the club ignored an SLA notice regarding the rubber check rap, which led to its application initially being rejected. State records show that Jay-Z (real name: Shawn Carter) is equal partners in the 40/40 Club with one Epifanio Gonzalez, a 67-year-old Bronx man. When contacted Thursday afternoon, 40/40 Club manager Desiree Gonzalez announced, "I don't speak to reporters," before hanging up on TSG.

While not privy to his personal balance sheet, TSG is pretty sure that Jay-Z has enough scratch to pay his bills, considering his stake in lucrative music, film, and clothing businesses (not to mention those nifty Heineken commercials). He also owns a New Jersey condo penthouse purchased in 1999 for $1.36 million and just pledged $25,000 to P. Diddy's marathon fund. And the 33-year-old impresario has recently been test driving one of those ultra-luxury Maybach sedans, which could set him back more than $300,000. And we won't even try to estimate the carrying costs associated with Beyonce.