Green cards, cannabis and strip clubs: JCB’s heir in the American legal battle | Business
Jheir to the JCB diggers empire, whose father Lord Bamford is one of Boris Johnson’s biggest backers, is embroiled in a legal battle with a former close friend who has shed new light on tensions believed to be within one of the UK’s most powerful industrial families.
The case also raised questions about the conduct of Jo Bamford, a 43-year-old self-proclaimed ‘green entrepreneur’ who is a director of a key JCB holding company and has now set himself up as an investor in bus manufacturing and l ‘hydrogen. .
His companies, including double-decker builder Wrightbus, have won taxpayer-funded contracts worth nearly £80million for zero-emission buses in England and Northern Ireland over the past three years.
However, Bamford’s business dealings are now being examined by a judge in civil proceedings in the United States.
Court documents and US court transcripts reveal he is in a bitter dispute over ownership of a Philadelphia-based company. The documents make public for the first time Bamford’s investment in the Delaware Valley Regional Center (DVRC), one of hundreds of companies created to sell fast-track access to green cards under a controversial visa program of the United States government known as EB-5.
Bamford is suing Joseph Manheim, a former best friend, accusing him of ‘surreptitiously’ taking control of the joint venture and using that control to withdraw $5.9m (£4.4m) from the company. Manheim strenuously denied the allegations and filed its own counterclaim. As the dispute escalated, the pair hurled a barrage of accusations at each other.
The case went to trial in Delaware in June, providing an extraordinary insight into a world of extreme wealth and privilege within one of Britain’s most prominent industrial families.
During hearings, Bamford told the court he had raced classic Ferraris – while Manheim claimed he also collected rare pheasants. Under cross-examination, Bamford admitted to using a company email account to order cannabis and send unspecified “inappropriate explicit photos”.
Bamford and a third founding director, who joined him as a plaintiff, in turn accused Manheim of using company funds for outings to a strip club in Philadelphia, renting a Porsche and to cover the cost of participating in polo matches.
In his court papers, Manheim alleged that Bamford intended to use the legal process to carry out a “bloodless coup” to take control of the company.
Both men deny any allegations of wrongdoing. Manheim, through his attorneys, declined to comment on the cases. Final judgment on the claim and counterclaim is not expected until next year.
Green cards “for sale”
Lawyers acting jointly for JCB, Lord Bamford and Jo Bamford said the US legal proceedings had no connection with the digger company or the peer.
Anthony Bamford, 76, is one of the UK’s most successful industrialists, with an estimated net worth of £4.6billion. He was made a peer in 2013, campaigned for Brexit and donated millions to the Conservative Party. Jo Bamford, his eldest son, donated £75,000 to the Tories.
He will also be able – one day – to take over the entire family business.
Jo Bamford became friends with Manheim around 2001, when the former investment banker was dating Bamford’s sister.
The court hearings provided insight into a once close relationship: the pair socialized and vacationed together and were godparents to each other’s children. Bamford eventually gave Manheim access to his $2 million Goldman Sachs investment account.
When Manheim came up with the green card business idea in 2012, Bamford backed the business. DVRC’s equity was split between the two friends and a third partner, who would share all profits equally, Bamford claimed. Through his attorneys, Bamford said he was not significantly involved in DVRC’s business beyond attending board meetings.
The company’s customers were mainly from China, but also from Vietnam and South Korea, among other countries. In exchange for investments of $500,000 each in local road and public transport projects, and a fee paid to DVRC, they could apply for expedited visas to live and work in the United States.
As of January 2021, the fund holding DVRC client money had accumulated assets worth $623 million from 1,246 investors, according to Manheim’s pretrial brief. Of earnings, Bamford received total distributions of $2.15 million between 2016 and 2020.
DVRC operated under the EB-5 program, which allowed wealthy foreigners to effectively purchase the right to live and work in the United States. The EB-5 is now on hold for new candidates after criticism from senators that – while legal – it posed a national security risk.
Through his attorneys, Bamford said EB-5 had been re-licensed several times and that DVRC was a completely legal business.
Polo and strip club
The lawsuit revealed allegations of unusual business practices at the DVRC. Manheim and the third venture partner repeatedly visited a Philadelphia strip club called Delilah’s Den, racking up expenses of $3,928, according to Bamford’s pretrial brief.
Manheim also allegedly withdrew money from the business to pay between $20,000 and $50,000 to cover the cost of a polo match in Argentina, according to testimony from the third partner.
According to court documents, relations between the business partners deteriorated in 2018. In August of the same year, Manheim and the other directors agreed to remove Bamford from the board of directors of a holding company.
The circumstances surrounding his dismissal are highly controversial. Bamford claimed he was unlawfully fired.
In his testimony, Manheim gave several alleged reasons for the dismissal and raised concerns about Bamford’s actions. He claimed that in a board meeting, Bamford put his interests as a shareholder ahead of his duties as a director and failed to prioritize the needs of the company and its 1,200 investors . Through his attorneys, Bamford denied the allegation.
Bamford confirmed in court that he used the company’s email accounts to order cannabis through the Craigslist website, and that he also used his work email to send “inappropriate and explicit photographs”.
A difficult conversation
During the hearings, Manheim sought to highlight alleged tensions within the Bamford family.
Bamford confirmed in his testimony that he “reluctantly left the family business” in 2016 after a “difficult and painful conversation” with his father. “Essentially, my dad didn’t want to stop running the business, and I didn’t want him to stop running the business,” he told the court. “And I didn’t really want to be Prince Charles, I didn’t want to wait out the rest of my life. I wanted to go run my own business.
In his testimony, Manheim claimed that Bamford had asked him a few years ago to carry out a DNA test on his younger brother, who sits alongside him on the board of one of JCB’s companies. He alleged that Bamford gave him a bag containing samples to analyze. Manheim said he never performed the test. He claimed Bamford was often ‘excitable’ when discussing family matters and his approach was to ‘let things calm down’.
Through his lawyers, Bamford has strongly denied that this incident ever took place.
During the trial, his attorneys attempted to have the claim struck out on the basis of its relevance and the fact that the allegation dated two years before the litigation covered by the trial. But the judge dismissed the objection, saying it was relevant because “past interactions with people contribute to how one perceives them,” according to the court transcript.
In 2019, Bamford finally sued Manheim, accusing him of “skimming profits” to claim more than $5.9 million without the knowledge or consent of his co-shareholders, and of having fraudulently taken control of the company. He is seeking damages and wants Manheim removed and replaced by a trustee.
Manheim’s request to dismiss the case and pay costs was denied. In a verbal decision on certain aspects of the case at the end of the trial, the judge said that there had been “an enormous amount of money leaving this company for Manheim and its affiliates, and that is where the result turns really “.