A New Rochelle man claims to have helped his brother revive a Mount Vernon construction company by securing lucrative government contracts, only to be betrayed and deprived of his share of the profits.
Antoine Zihenni sued Albert N. Zihenni, Pelham, for $2 million on May 26 in Westchester Supreme Court, claiming he was entitled to half of the net profits from New York City contracts awarded to NorthE Group Inc. from 2011 to 2016.
Attempts to reach Albert Zihenni for his side of the story were unsuccessful.
According to Antoine, he has awarded and managed public contracts for more than 20 years.
Albert founded NorthE in 2001, but failed to grow beyond small private projects, says Antoine. So when his brother asked him to invest in the business in 2010, they struck a deal.
Antoine would get contracts on public projects and he would be paid half of the net profits.
If Antoine failed to align public projects, “he would not be paid” and “would earn absolutely nothing”.
From 2011 to 2017, NorthE won seven construction contracts over $1 million in New York City.
In 2013, for example, the city’s building department awarded NorthE a contract for the interior-exterior renovation of Flushing City Hall. In 2017, the Parks Department awarded a contract to rebuild a comfort station at Marcus Garvey Park in Manhattan.
Antoine says he single-handedly secured the contracts and managed the work to completion. He also claims to have invested $550,000 in the business and used his creditworthiness to secure the bonds required for the work.
The projects brought in $3 million in profits, according to the complaint, but Antoine received nothing.
When he demanded his share, the complaint says, Albert insisted the deal did not require immediate payment and said he was using the profits to reinvest in NorthE.
Inevitably, the complaint states, the brothers’ relationship “turned sour.”
In January 2018, Antoine was fired.
Then, says Antoine, he discovered that his share of the profits had been misappropriated. Albert and his wife, Emilie Semionato, reportedly set up three limited liability companies and paid $360,000 to purchase property at and near NorthE’s base on South Fulton Avenue, Mount Vernon.
A fourth LLC was used to purchase a unit in the Marbury Corners condominium in Pelham for $825,000, to be used as a residence.
In 2017, Albert issued ten NorthE checks totaling $250,000 to one of the LLCs to rent equipment for Pelham’s home, then rented the same equipment to NorthE, according to the complaint, “essentially to pay himself and fill their pockets”.
Antoine demands $2 million from Albert, his sister-in-law, NorthE and the four SARLs, as well as a levy and seizure on the properties they purchased.
He is represented by Edgewater, New Jersey attorney Peter Y. Lee.