The former district attorney of Washington County is a defendant in a sixth federal lawsuit involving a company called Alternative Energy Holdings LLC.
A lawsuit for Jack Levin, 51, of North Strabane Township, was filed on Friday against AEH and three principals of the company – Jonathan Freeze, Robert Irey and Kevin Carney – plus Steve Toprani, the former elected prosecutor. Levin’s is the latest of the cases filed by investors against the apparently defunct company since July by plaintiffs who share the same attorneys, Scott Lane, Alice Stewart and Michael Nagy.
Levin allegedly never saw any of the double-digit-percentage returns he was promised when he took out a home equity line of credit to invest $50,000 in the venture almost three years ago.
Similarly to the other cases, Levin’s complaint names Dodaro, Matta and Cambest – the firm where Toprani worked until earlier last year – as defendants alongside with another lawyer from the firm, Michael Hammond. It also names DMC Bradley, a joint venture of that firm and the Bradley Law Firm in Canonsburg.
Those defendants are denying wrongdoing. Joseph Luvara, the Pittsburgh attorney who represents them, said his clients had a “very limited role” in the events of the case and have since ended their relationship with AEH.
“They were retained in a very limited capacity, and it was after all the investors had made their investments,” Luvara said. “They did not have anything to do with the paperwork involved in organizing the companies involved or in facilitating any of the investments.”
The plaintiffs assert otherwise, claiming that Toprani was representing AEH in June 2016, when Irey and Freeze began soliciting potential investors for energy projects and put the money either into AEH or two business entities of Irey’s. Levin’s lawsuit said Hammond became involved at some point, too, and at least one of them was allegedly involved in “drafting, reviewing and/or approving” the agreement with Levin.
Luvara said he hadn’t seen Levin’s complaint yet, and couldn’t comment on it specifically. He expected it to join the other ones, which were consolidated in September.
The new lawsuit says that in May 2017, Levin was living in the same Canonsburg apartment complex as Irey and Freeze, who approached him about investing in AEH, purportedly to build an alternative energy plant in Greenville, S.C.
The entrepreneurial neighbors allegedly told him that they’d already raised $137 million, that they needed at least $130 million more and that the first plant would be operational in the 2019 fiscal year with $41.8 million in revenue a year.
“As a result of discussions with Defendants Irey, Freeze, and Carney, and reviewing the Report and other documents provided by Defendant Irey, Plaintiff Levin decided to invest $50,000 in Defendant AEH,” Levin’s attorneys wrote.
Carney and Freeze executed a promissory note with Levin that same May. Levin was purportedly to receive his investment, plus 10%, in a month, a 1% equity in the company and interest of 13.5% if AEH defaulted. He was among at least 23 investors with similar agreements. None have been paid, according to the lawsuits, and the company is now listed by the state of Florida as being in “administrative dissolution.”
Asked about the status of the South Carolina project, he said his clients’ relationship with AEH didn’t involve the facility.
Toprani served a term as DA in 2008 to 2012 after being elected as a Republican. He ran as a Democrat for a Mon Valley seat in the state House in 2018, losing to GOP Rep. Bud Cook by 11 votes. He is now counsel for W.G. Tomko Inc.
Freeze and Irey now have addresses on the same street in Robinson Township, Allegheny County. Carney lives in Euclid, Ohio, according to court papers.
Freeze, a former stockbroker, was barred in August 2017 from ever working in the securities industry. Many of the investors were allegedly his former clients or his and Irey’s neighbors.
Carney was indicted by a grand jury in Ohio in 2016 and later pleaded guilty to grand theft and forgery. AEH’s members and attorneys allegedly failed to disclose Freeze’s and Carney’s backgrounds.
Luvara wrote in responses to the lawsuits that Hammond and Toprani had no “attorney/client” relationship with the plaintiffs, and thus had no duty to contact them. He also denied that his clients knew of any supposed fraud.
Court records list no attorneys for Freeze, Carney, Irey and AEH.
One of the plaintiffs’ attorneys previously declined to discuss the cases.
“Please note that we do not typically comment on pending litigation,” Nagy wrote in an email last month. “Consequently, our official response to your inquiry is ‘no comment.’”