20 Siskey investors profited — and are keeping some of the money

Plus: New data on scooter injuries; Chick-fil-A sales surge on chicken-eating; Layoffs at book distributor Baker & Taylor

Good morning! Today is Friday, May 10, 2019. Important reminder: Sunday is Mother’s Day.

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Siskey trustee reaches settlements with ‘lucky’ investors, including Delano Little

Most of the attention of the Rick Siskey Ponzi scheme has focused on the 200+ investors who lost money they entrusted to him.

But there’s a far more fortunate group of about 20 investors who made money with Siskey – and they are not being required to give it all back.

Dumb luck: In a filing this week in the bankruptcy case of Siskey’s investment companies, the bankruptcy trustee said he has reached settlements with nine investors who had withdrawn more from their accounts with Siskey than they had contributed. In court documents, they are referred to as “net winners” – which sounds like a friend in Vegas who had a rough night at roulette but who more than made up for it at blackjack. There’s no indication these investors did anything wrong. They just happened to be fortunate.

Bankruptcy trustee Joe Grier tells the Ledger: “They were lucky. In the ebb and flow, people would go to Rick Siskey. He’d pay them with somebody else’s money. Some people kept money in, some people took money out. It’s just, ‘Where were you when the merry-go-round stopped?’”

Sports anchor benefits: The most famous name who made money with Siskey and reached a settlement is Delano Little, the former WBTV sports anchor. Documents say Little invested nearly $150,000 with a Siskey-controlled company but had withdrawn more than $191,000 – a gain of more than $41,000. He settled for about $33,000, or about 80% of his gain, court documents say. The trustee reached settlements with eight other account holders on similar terms.

Not 100% of gains: That means people who profited from investing with Siskey will get to keep some of that money. Why? “What we try to do is recognize that there’s a cost of litigation, there is the time value of money, and there are always risks in litigation,” Grier told the Ledger. He said lawyers also considered investors’ ability to repay. According to court records, Grier’s office has filed claims against at least two other investors who made money, and he says he is in conversations with others.

Background: In late 2016, federal investigators uncovered evidence that Siskey was engaged in a classic Ponzi scheme, taking money from investors to pay other investors as well as his own gambling debts, alleged to have been as high as $70,000 a hand at casinos. Siskey was a prominent businessman and philanthropist whose name was on the YMCA in Matthews (since renamed). He committed suicide in December 2016 shortly after the allegations surfaced.

The other investors: Those who lost money with Siskey actually stand to recoup almost all of their losses, largely because of Siskey’s life insurance payout. Recovering most of the investment losses is unusual in these schemes. As of now, those investors should receive about 91% of their losses, Grier says. That figure could rise as the case winds down.

First thorough study on scooter injuries

When the Charlotte City Council was debating the fate of all those electric scooters around uptown, most of the safety information was anecdotal. City council member Tariq Bokhari, for instance, said in September that he witnessed a woman riding a scooter the wrong way down a one-way street and colliding with a van: “I was like, ‘Oh no, oh no, oh no,’ and then just dead center, smack hit and just, I froze,” Bokhari said.

Now, though, as other cities study regulations, they are gathering better data. This month, Austin and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a study of scooter crashes in Austin that is “believed to be the first study to conduct interviews with injured e-scooter riders.”

By scouring medical records, researchers found 190 people with scooter-related injuries in a three-month period in 2018. They found that 20 people were injured for every 100,000 scooter trips — a rate believed to be safer than cars, if researchers indeed found all those with injuries. But the news isn’t all positive.

Of the 190 injured riders in Austin:

  • 55% were male

  • 48% were aged 18-29

  • 48% had injuries to the head (fractures, lacerations, abrasions)

  • 70% had injuries to their upper limbs

  • 55% had injuries to their lower limbs

  • 35% had broken bones

  • only 1 was wearing a helmet

Bone fracture locations of injured scooter riders:

Head, shoulders, knees and toes: No area of the body seems immune from scooter injuries. (Source: City of Austin, Texas)

Car and Driver magazine summed up some of the other conclusions:

Some of the study’s findings, when dissociated from horrific injuries, border on amusing. Apparently, 10 percent of the incidents that led to an injury “involved a curb,” while another 7 percent “involved an inanimate object, such as a light pole or manhole cover;” another 37 percent of respondents cited “excessive scooter speed” as a contributor to their accidents. … Shockingly, only 10 percent of scooter accidents involved a motor vehicle.

For their part, the riders had plenty of blame to throw around. According to the study, 19 percent of the injured riders “believed the scooter malfunctioned.” Many—50 percent—further believed their accidents had to do with “surface conditions” such as potholes or pavement irregularities.

Local stats here are hard to come by. Novant says that anecdotally, it has seen an increase in the number of scooter-related cases at its urgent care in Midtown, but it doesn’t track how injuries occur.

Charlotte scooter crashes: In a report to City Council in March, city staff members wrote that there had been seven scooter-to-pedestrian crashes and 34 scooter-to-car crashes since May 2017, when e-scooters first appeared in Charlotte.

Council members tightened some of the regulations earlier this year, such as outlawing scooters on sidewalks in crowded areas of uptown. Without data, it’s tough to know the effects.

Tweet of the week

Chick-fil-A continues plan for world domination

The chicken chain just keeps on growing, the Wall Street Journal reports (paywall):

The closely held company this year is poised to become the third-biggest U.S. restaurant chain by sales behind McDonald’s Corp. and Starbucks Corp. , according to food-service consultancy Technomic Inc. The growth reflects Chick-fil-A’s expansion over the past decade, as well as consumers’ broader turn toward chicken.

“We’ve been pretty consistent in how, over multiple decades, we’re going to take it slow and steady,” Mark Moraitakis, a Chick-fil-A senior director, said about the company’s expansion. “It’s paid off for us.” 

Sales from Chick-fil-A’s restaurants have tripled over the past decade, reaching $10.2 billion last year, Technomic said, even though the chain is closed on Sundays, a practice implemented by its conservative Christian founder. 

Chick-fil-A, also known for its customer service, has nearly doubled its store count to about 2,400 restaurants since 2007. The company now has locations from Manhattan to Hollywood. Its growing presence will test whether consumers will stick with the chain as they have in the South, Chick-fil-A’s historic base.

What controversy? Most customers seem to have shrugged off controversial statements by the chain’s executives opposing same-sex marriage: “It does look like most consumers, for the most part, are looking the other way,” a restaurant analyst told the paper.

In brief

  • Baker & Taylor cuts: Book distributor Baker & Taylor is cutting 37 workers from its Tyvola Road office, according to a filing with the N.C. Department of Commerce. The company said this month it is exiting its retail business to focus on library distribution and on providing services to publishers.

  • Dirt moving: Construction has started on an 11-story office tower on Ballantyne Commons Parkway, Northwood Office said Thursday. It will have 328,000 square feet, ready in 1Q 2021, and there are plans for a separate luxury-apartment tower.

  • Fashion war in the air: American Airlines is developing new uniforms with Lands’ End in a move to go head-to-head with rival United Airlines, which is working on new uniforms with Brooks Brothers. (Biz Journal/paywall)

  • At the car wash: Zips Car Wash of Little Rock, Ark., announced this week that it is acquiring eight Wiki Wiki Car Wash locations in North Carolina, including six in Charlotte.

  • South Carolina Panthers incentives: After a week of fake drama, South Carolina did what South Carolina does: offered huge tax incentives to lure a North Carolina company across the border. The $120M package, which still has a few minor procedural issues before passing the S.C. legislature, will help ease the burden to Panthers billionaire owner David Tepper. He plans to build a new team HQ and practice field near Rock Hill.

  • Northern hospitality: A Boston radio station hung up on the Raleigh News & Observer’s Carolina Hurricanes writer this week: “I can’t listen to a guy with a Southern accent talk about hockey,” the sports radio host said, before taking calls from listeners with Boston accents.

Food and booze news

A weekly wrap-up of the week’s eating and drinking developments

  • Park Road gelato out, Park Road ice cream in: Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams will take the place of Va Da Vie Gelato at Park Road Shopping Center. (Biz Journal)

  • Pizza closure in Cherry: DeSano Pizza on 3rd Street closed this week. Owner blames staffing problems: “We were just not able to put together a consistent, sustainable crew,” he tells Charlotte Agenda.

  • An upscale steakhouse? In SouthPark? The chain Steak 48 plans to open in summer 2020 at Apex SouthPark, the mixed-use development at Sharon Road and Morrison Boulevard. (Biz Journal)

  • Another reason to live beside a brewery: “Breweries in Charlotte provide a welcome shot to home values, new report finds.” (Observer/paywall)

  • Putting the “micro” in “microbrewery”: Protagonist Clubhouse, a “nano-brewery” with a “very intimate space,” seats 30 in just 1,700SF. It opened Thursday in NoDa, at 31st and North Davidson streets (team coverage: Agenda, Charlotte Magazine and Biz Journal/paywall).

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The Charlotte Ledger is published by Tony Mecia, an award-winning former Charlotte Observer business reporter and editor. He lives in Charlotte with his wife and three children.