Firms want payment for work on rejected Baltimore slots parlor

Five companies that were part of an unsuccessful effort to bring slot machines to downtown Baltimore have filed a lawsuit against the project's leader that seeks to recover $721,000 in unpaid fees.

The suit, filed Tuesday in Baltimore Circuit Court, comes a week after the companies and three other firms asked state officials to intervene in their financial dispute with Michael Moldenhauer, the Canadian home builder who led the proposed casino.

The eight companies want the Maryland Lottery to tap or freeze a $3 million deposit made last year by the would-be casino developer, Baltimore City Entertainment Group. Moldenhauer is the group's managing member and controls it, according to the suit. The lottery hasn't responded to the request.

In a similar vein, the lawsuit asks a judge to issue a "writ of attachment" before that $3 million deposit is returned. Describing Moldenhauer's months-long refusal to pay the vendors as "bizarre," the suit says the five firms think it's "highly probable" they would never be paid if the refund went directly to the casino group.

Moldenhauer did not return a message Wednesday. It is not clear why three of the vendors are not part of the suit, which also seeks punitive damages of $1.5 million.

In December, the state slots commission rejected the Moldenhauer-led proposal after he failed to pay $19.5 million in additional license fees for the 3,750 machines envisioned at the city casino.

The lawsuit offers a glimpse into the fees charged by gambling consultants, architects and public relations advisers. Two of the five plaintiffs are based in Maryland, including a consulting firm headed by Michael E. Cryor, former chairman of the state Democratic Party.

Cryor claims he is owed $124,268, most of it from $15,000 monthly fees he logged over eight months. Cryor helped Moldenhauer assemble his Baltimore team, including marketing and legal expertise, and he acted as the project's spokesman.

Last month, Cryor sent Moldenhauer a letter stating that, given the commission's rejection of the proposal, he was "relinquishing" his equity stake in the casino group and ceasing his representation. Cryor also wrote that "I must remind you" of the unpaid six-figure bill.

Sandra S. Hillman, a veteran of the Baltimore public relations scene, claims her Towson agency is owed $121,125, stemming from a $30,000 monthly retainer agreed to in August.

The largest bill, $355,616, is from Gaming Entertainment Management Corp. USA, run by two Canadians out of Florida. It demands Moldenhauer pay a $50,000 monthly fee dating to last March, $30,000 in "short term funds advanced" and $25,610 in expenses for two executives - one of whom, Paul Micucci, was so involved in the slots bid that he signed the group's corporate charter in January 2009.

Also, the Toronto architecture firm Reich + Petch is seeking about $110,000 and Cranson Capital Solutions, also of Toronto, has submitted bills totaling $10,000.

Baltimore City Entertainment Group recently changed lawyers, hiring John Bourgeois for the appeal. Bourgeois said he is not "as of yet" handling the lawsuit and therefore had no comment on it.

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