Sunday, November 27, 2011

More Troubling Questions And Mystery About Litebox Founder

The Star has a pair of stories in its Sunday edition that raise more doubts and mystery about the founder of Litebox, a company to which Gov. Mitch Daniels and Mayor Greg Ballard have promised state and local economic development incentives for relocating its headquarters and building a manufacturing plant on Indianapolis' northwest side that will mass produce mobile, drive-in movie theaters. The first story builds on earlier reports by the Star detailing the checkered past of the founder, Bob Yanagihira, who it found had been sued by several creditor and had hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid taxes and judgment liens. Yanagahira refused to answer the Star's questions according to the story.
In the days following that news conference, The Indianapolis Star revealed that Yanagihara had not fully repaid hundreds of thousands of dollars in liens, including several for unpaid state and federal taxes.
But further investigation by The Star has found a litany of angry creditors in California, including some who claim he misled them about his intentions with their money.
That is particularly so with the Westwind real estate development, in the mid-2000s.
The Star has attempted multiple times to get Yanagihara's response to the various allegations. At Yanagihara's request, The Star emailed him a list of questions about the Westwind development and other business dealings.
He initially did not reply. When The Star followed up a week later, he emailed a picture of a sign from the baggage claim at Indianapolis International Airport.
"Welcome to Indianapolis," the sign says. Yanagihara offered no other response.
According to the story, Yanagihira convinced his girlfriend to invest her life savings, $200,000, in the Westwind real estate project. She later learned that he was married and had a child with another woman. She never saw her money or him again. Charlene DeLuca won a $233,000 judgment against Yanagihira in 2007 and has never received a dime of her money back. Another investor had a similar experience with Yanagihira and lost $125,000. A prominent home builder associated with the real estate deal decided to stop doing business with Yanagihira after running a background check on him, determining "that he was more talk than reality." The problems don't end there though:
The Star found a number of other troubling instances in Yanigahara's past, including:
Etile Inc., a company with Yanagihara's name attached to it, is listed with the California secretary of state as under suspension and is barred from doing business there. State officials said the company never submitted a tax return and never filed a required statement of information.
The state of California suspended and then revoked, in 2003, the contractors license for Creative Environments Inc. -- listed at the same Los Angeles address as Etile and another company run by Yanagihara. According to state officials, Creative Environments never paid a $1,000 citation that was issued when the company asked a customer for a down payment larger than allowed under California law.
The California Contractors State License Board cited Yanagihara in 2008 for contracting without a license. State officials said the fine never has been paid back.
Beyond his troubles with the state, there is a list of people who told The Star that Yanigahara either bailed on projects after receiving money, bounced checks or had to be evicted for not paying rent.
The Star's findings of Yanagihira's background make the newspaper's skepticism of him well-founded. IBJ publisher Mickey Mauer, a prominent Indianapolis businessman and philanthropist, however, penned a column critical of the Star's reporting. Maurer based his criticism on what he said he had learned from Litebox's principal investor, Alexander Capello, of Capello Group, Inc., the only other person known to be involved with Litebox. As Maurer noted in his column, Capello's investment firm has been associated with many successful business projects, which only adds further mystery and intrigue to the proposed Litebox project. The second Litebox story in today's Star explores Capello's involvement.
Alexander L. Cappello, managing director of Cappello Group Inc., told The Star he has known Yanagihara for years and is a stockholder in Litebox. He also is a director of RAND Corp.'s Center for Middle East Public Policy and The Cheesecake Factory Inc. and formerly served on the University of Southern California's board of trustees.
He expressed confidence in Litebox, which envisions building a 125,000-square-foot factory on a vacant lot at 84th Street and Bearing Drive, and said there is no shortage of investors for the company nor demand for its product.
Los Angeles-based Cappello said he stepped out from his behind-the-scenes role after Yanagihara's actions prompted questions about the legitimacy of the Litebox project. He said there are several new developments with the project, including work on a prototype of the product -- 20-by-33-foot mobile screens mounted on semitrailer trucks -- and a pending order for 100 of the mobile screens.
"I think we kind of shot ourselves in the foot by how Bobby handled things in the beginning," Cappello said. "I'll do my best to try to improve the situation."
Cappello said that while Yanagihara has come to him with other projects in the past, this is his first formal involvement in one of Yanagihara's ventures. The two men are so far the only members of the Litebox board.
"I've known him to be an honest, decent guy," Cappello said of Yanagihara. "He's even told me he's had some things that have gotten him in trouble in the past, but I'm not aware of any criminal activity."
This is where the story takes an odd twist. One of the chief complaints has been the inability of anyone to confirm Litebox's existence through its registration with the states where it does business despite its claims that it already employs dozens of people in California and Minnesota. Capello vouches for Yanagihira's claims that the company employs more than 60 people, most of whom are working in Minnesota, but he refused to provide the Star with the name of the company under which it is doing business or the location of its Minnesota facilities. It did find, however, a company that has done business with the firm.
Minnesota officials say they have no records of Litebox having any employees in the state. If there were, the company would have to be registered with the state Department of Revenue -- which it isn't.
That said, Gary Stoks, owner of the Porter, Minn., company SMI & Hydraulics, confirmed that his company has done manufacturing work for Litebox, though he would not say what that work involved.
Stoks also confirmed Litebox is negotiating a bigger deal with his company. Nothing has been finalized, Stoks said, but "it looks good."
Capello also could not clear up questions about Litebox's supposed partnership with Bose and Panasonic. Bose officials deny any business relationship with Litebox and Panasonic officials did not return the Star's calls asking for comment. Capello insists the company has met with Panasonic and has its permission to use its name. The most intriguing item in the story is this claim by Capello:
"Bobby is negotiating a deal right now with all kinds of events and people who want to do their own broadcast, their own movies, fundraisers, for profit, nonprofit," he said. "One customer we have actually wants 100, and it's actually outside the United States, and the government of that country wants to acquire the 100 trucks."
He did not identify the country.
He said investors also have shown interest in the project and that he has seen documentation showing that investors have committed to "more than half" of the $21 million Yanagihara predicted would be invested in the project.
Did you catch that? The government of a foreign country is seeking to purchase 100 trucks equipped with Litebox's product. In one of my previous posts, I jokingly suggested the only potential large purchaser of the product would be the government seeking to purchase the product for use at concentration camps for re-education purposes like a scene straight out of the cold war movie from the 1980s, "Red Dawn." That thought came to mind, in part, because of Capello's association with the Young Presidents Organization, which was founded by the CIA back in the 1950s. Capello formerly served as the company's international president. The Star story also indicates Capello is a director of the RAND Corporation's Center for Middle East Public Policy. It just so happens that the RAND Corporation, a nonprofit global think tank which also has deep ties to the CIA, has been tied to the CIA's controversial interrogation techniques as part of the American government's war on terrorism. Check out this story from The Public Record entitled, "Who will investigate CIA/RAND/APA Torture Workshp?". The story by Jeffrey Kaye begins:
Back in May 2007, while researching the activities of the American Psychological Association (APA) in support of the U.S. government’s interrogation program, I came across evidence that the APA had engaged in a discussion of torture techniques during a workshop organized by APA and the RAND Corporation, “with generous funding from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).”
The workshop was held at the Arlington, Virginia, headquarters of the privately-held but long linked-to-the-government RAND think tank. APA Director of Science Geoff Mumford acted as liaison to the CIA for the meeting. Susan Brandon, a key APA “Senior Scientist”, and former member of the Bush White House’s Office of Science & Technology Policy, helped organize the affair, along with psychologist Kirk Hubbard, who was then Chief of the Research & Analysis Branch, Operational Assessment Division of the CIA.
The workshop was titled the "Science of Deception: Integration of Practice and Theory", and it discussed new ways to utilize drugs and sensory bombardment techniques to break down interrogatees. Those are signal techniques of psychological torture long utilized by the CIA and other intelligence agencies and military around the world.
Wow, let your imagination run wild on this one. Incidentally, Litebox has still not registered to do business with the Indiana Secretary of State according to the business services division's website despite Yanagihira's claim that the company has already leased space at a downtown Indianapolis office building and has taken out permits to remodel the space into its company's new headquarters. Litebox's Facebook site claims Indiana-based Cummins' power generators will be used to power its Litebox product.

1 comment:

Marycatherine Barton said...

Yes, wow. After reading this report, my imagination is running wild. Occupy reason and morality, state and county leaders, please.