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FEATURE - Savannah Physician and Family Sues Business Partner CPA Harry J. Haslam Jr., Alleging Fraud and Negligence

By Lou Phelps, SBJ

March 4, 2019 – Dr. Morris Geffen has been well-known in Savannah medical circles for many years.  Less well-known is that he was also the business partner of the founder of Hancock Askew, the city’s leading certified public accounting firm, J. Harry Haslam, Jr (pictured.)  Together, the men set up a number of real estate investment corporations, under the management of Haslam.

Last week, represented by one of Atlanta’s leading law firms, Dr. Geffen, his wife Marla Geffen; and their companies Geffen Enterprises, LLC; and MRPM, LP,  filed suit in State Court, alleging a number of fiduciary breaches by Haslam, seeking damages in the millions. 

Named in the filing is J. Harry Haslam, Jr.; Greenwater, LLC; Legion Investors, LLC; Bougainvillea Gold, L.P.; and York of Savannah, LLC companies.

Mr. Haslam has retired from any role with Hancock Askew, according to the firms website.  

The Geffens are alleging breach of fiduciary duty, negligence, and fraud by Haslam, stating, “Defendant Haslam has used to engage in a deceptive pattern of egregious self-dealing and fraud, directly harming Plaintiffs.”

Haslam was the Geffen’s friend and accountant for over 30 years, and “owed a fiduciary duty to Plaintiffs as their accountant, financial and tax advisor, wealth manager, and the general partner in their business partnership,” the filing states.

When the Geffens began to question a number of fees that Haslam was charging and extracting from various invested funds, and questioning documents that Haslam had signed without their knowledge they allege, he threatened the Geffens with financial ruin, the suit states that they allege. 

“Defendant Haslam, in his role as a fiduciary, set up a business that Haslam told Plaintiffs was for the Plaintiffs’ benefit. Then, from 2013 to 2017, Haslam took over $4.4 million in distributions from the business after investing only about $248,000. Over the same period, Plaintiffs, to whom Haslam has admitted owing a fiduciary duty, put more than $5 million in the business, but received only approximately $500,000 in distributions.  Haslam took a 1,783% return on investment, while the people to whom he owed a fiduciary duty realized a return of less than 10% while exposing Plaintiffs’ assets to significant risks,” the suit alleges. 

“From 2014 to the present, Haslam regularly double and triple “dipped” on fees he charged Plaintiffs. Not only was he collecting as fees 1% of the gross asset value of every asset Plaintiffs owned, regardless of whether Haslam involved in the procurement or management of those assets, he also required Plaintiff Geffen Enterprises to make a capital contribution of 10% of all appreciation and income of any assets held by Geffen Enterprises. Haslam arranged these transactions so that Plaintiffs, his clients and business partners, had to bear all of the risk of loss, while he had no risk,” the filing outlines.

“Not only were Plaintiffs forced to make almost all of the capital contributions and pay double or triple fees, they were also forced to bear the risk of almost all of the business’s debt. Specifically, as of December 31, 2017, the combined balance sheet of the business reflected $39,220,300 of debt, with $36,660,772 comprised of notes payable to Plaintiff Geffen Enterprises, LLC. While Plaintiffs held the risk of over 90% of the business’s debt, Haslam allocated that debt 50% to himself and his business entities and 50% to the Plaintiffs, so that he could receive the tax benefits of claiming almost $20 million in debt, despite his complete inability to be financially responsible for that amount.

The complete, initial court filing is attached here. Copy and paste this URL ...  https://www.dropbox.com/s/vtzdrwza9ldiav9/Haslam%20Case%20STCV19-00308.pdf?dl=0

Haslam has 30 days to respond. 

During the period covered in the civil case filing, Haslam was also chairman of the Board of Directors of Memorial Health, Inc. as the board pursued an investment partner or a sale of the hospital.  Haslam;a term expired in Feb. 2017. 

Editor’s Note:  The Savannah Business Journal will continue to follow and report on all subsequent court filings and the responses of the legal team presenting Haslam. Oliver Manor.

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