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Former Tipitina’s owner Roland Von Kurnatowksi dies in shooting accident, family friend says – NOLA.com

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New Orleans businessman and former Tipitina’s owner Roland Von Kurnatowski died Sunday night after he accidentally shot himself on property he owned in Mississippi, close family friends said Monday.

Details about exactly how Von Kurnatowski, 68, died were limited. But the family friends said Von Kurnatowski was using a rifle to try to kill wild boar, which had become a problem on his property near Carriere, when he was killed. He was alone when the accident occurred.

Hancock County Coroner Jim Faulk on Monday afternoon said Von Kurnatowski’s death remained “under thorough investigation” but declined to discuss the case further.

Von Kurnatowksi’s unexpected death comes several months after he sold Tipitina’s, the famed Uptown music he owned for roughly two decades, to the band Galactic. He had also sold his share of the Orpheum Theater, which he had assisted in restoring following Hurricane Katrina.

Both sales occurred as questions swirled over whether he had mingled his private business interests too closely with a charitable nonprofit under the Tipitina’s name. Several lawsuits also accused him of swindling investors whose money he had promised to invest conservatively.

Von Kurnatowski was also wrestling with a series of legal disputes pitting him against his sister and her sons, who had partnered with him on real-estate deals that had soured.

The various circumstances had triggered an FBI investigation, WWL-TV reported earlier this year.

Von Kurnatowksi had gotten good news in at least one of those disputes last month, having reached a settlement with his sister and nephews, court records show. Terms of the settlement haven’t been disclosed.

New Orleans businessman Roland Von Kurnatowski defrauded his sister and two nephews through a series of real-estate deals involving the Tipiti…

Before his recent legal troubles, Von Kurnatowski’s ownership of Tipitina’s and stewardship of the foundation earned him a first-rate reputation around town. The Tipitina’s Foundation donated thousands of music instruments to local school bands and provided practice space to underprivileged musicians, attracting the group and Von Kurnatowski effusive media coverage.

He had also devised plans for a $13 million redevelopment of the South Shore Harbor near Lakefront Airport — where his office was — as an entertainment district.

But, in late 2017, Von Kurnatowski began showing signs of financial strain, bouncing checks to high-profile music acts that performed at Tipitina’s and the Orpheum, WWL-TV reported.

Things got worse for him last year. Several people began filing lawsuits alleging that they had invested in something called Bond Fund One, or BF-I, at the behest of Von Kurnatowski.

The fund would trade U.S. Treasury bills, which are considered generally safe investments — only the investors lost hundreds of thousands of dollars and then were barred by Von Kurnatowski from cashing out their stakes.

One investor in particular, retired Jesuit priest Antone Lynch of Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, went so far as to accuse Von Kurnatowski of running a Ponzi scheme — an illegal artifice in which scammers convince early investors that they are banking excellent returns when they are actually just receiving later investors’ money.

Lynch also alleged that Von Kurnatowski was not registered to engage in the investments the fund was supposed to have been dealing in and kept an unusually large portion of the profits for himself: 40 percent or more.

Those cases remained unresolved at the time of Von Kurnatowski’s death. In at least a couple of the disputes, his lawyers this month requested to stay the proceedings while the U.S. Department of Justice’s probe into Von Kurnatowski was ongoing. The plaintiffs opposed, and the request had not been ruled on.

Complicating matters was a separate lawsuit in which his sister, Joan Hooper, and her sons, Christian and Andre Hooper, accused Von Kurnatowski of reneging on a sizable loan involving some building projects which had not gone according to plan. A judgment found he owed a real-estate firm run by his sister and nephews nearly $830,000 in principal and more than $18,450 in accrued interest.

The Hoopers and Von Kurnatowski had since settled the disagreement out of court, and the case was dismissed.

Von Kurnatowski sold off Tipitina’s and his stake in the Orpheum Theater as the legal problems mounted. But that didn’t stave off scrutiny of the foundation, which had conducted several financial transactions with for-profit entities he controlled.

Von Kurnatowski defended his stewardship of the foundation, which was allowed to continue using the Tiptina’s name for some time after the sale of the club to Galactic. He said he had donated millions of dollars to the nonprofit, providing it free rent and utilities while forgiving debts it owed him.

For 15 years, the New Orleans-based nonprofit Tipitina’s Foundation has donated thousands of instruments to school band programs and provided …

Von Kurnatowski also denied wronging investors in Bond Fund One, telling WWL-TV in what appears to have been his last televised interview that a falling-out with his partner in the Orpheum as well as negative media coverage had caused his struggle to pay investors.

In a separate interview with this newspaper, he said investors “don’t have the full information, which they will be provided with shortly, and then they’ll see the error of their claim.”

Von Kurnatowski’s survivors include his wife, Mary, and children.

Staff writer Gordon Russell and WWL-TV‘s David Hammer contributed to this report. 

Former Tipitina’s owner Roland Von Kurnatowski loses a court battle, but Ponzi scheme claim dropped

Tipitina’s, one of New Orleans’ flagship music clubs, has new owners: the five members of the local funk band Galactic.

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