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Part two: A tangled financial history

Part two: A tangled financial history

by Kathryn Dunn | editor@claremont-courier.com and Peter Weinberger | pweinberger@claremont-courier.com

Locals have been shocked and upset about a recent COURIER story involving the chair-elect of the Claremont Chamber of Commerce. But this loan gone bad has opened up a more complicated history than what was first believed.

A $5,000 loan between SJ Antonuicci, Vadim Shtil and Nicole Lanni of Feeling Groovy has brought to light a puzzling legal history with respect to Ms. Lanni’s business dealings, including a handful of judgments against LLCs registered to Ms. Lanni and her husband Sam Lanni.

A pending case was brought by Precision Cultivation Systems, LLC in September 2019 claiming breach of contract and promissory note and seeks to recover $297,593 from an agreement made in August of 2018.

The complaint filed with the Los Angeles Superior Court alleges that the defendants—Feeling Groovy, Mr. Lanni and Ms. Lanni—failed to pay two installments of $58,462.05 on or before February 1 and June 1, 2019. Three additional installments of $16,800 were missed on February 1, April 1 and August 1, 2019, the complaint said.

Also, Precision Cultivation alleges they failed to repay an advance of $18,353 for fittings, filters and sensors, “less $10,000 received by a third party.” 

Precision Cultivation has requested a jury trial. A case review is scheduled for April 14 in Los Angeles Superior Court.

A second suit, brought by Marc Holland in 2018, also argues breach of contract. This case centered around a $230,000 loan in March 2017, with a repayment schedule to begin May 1, 2017 at $23,000 per month.

Ms. Lanni told the COURIER in an interview that, since the 2018 judgment, Mr. Holland has reversed course.

“That’s being undone. He has reinvested in the ranch,” she said. “He loaned the ranch $250,000, but we couldn’t pay him back. It came down to the greenhouses collapsing.”

A call to Jose-Manuel de Castro, the attorney who represented Mr. Holland in the lawsuit, had not been returned as of press time.

The loans are related to the Feeling Groovy Ranch in Trinity Center, California, Ms. Lanni said. It’s marketed as a cannabis-friendly ranch and resort, where visitors to one of the cabin-style guest rooms can roam the 116-acre property and enjoy morning yoga, hiking, horseback riding and a colored sheep walk.

“We have 60 investors at the ranch. It’s a group of family and friends working together to bring back this 1858 ranch,” she explained.

But getting the ranch off the ground in 2017 was a labor of love with many hurdles, Ms. Lanni said.

“We raised the money and then it goes wonky. It took nine months to get our license, because the board of supervisors could not agree on cannabis regulation,” she said.

The cannabis industry is a mess, she said. But after two years, they finally got licensing. With state and county approvals behind them, they built a 10,000-square-foot green house at a cost of nearly $1 million to house a cannabis cultivation system designed by Precision Cultivation.

“And then [the greenhouse] collapsed under the snow,” she said. “We went into bankruptcy and [Precision Cultivation] filed before we got through it all.”

Ms. Lanni also claims that Precision Cultivation Systems delayed them almost a year and that major parts were missing to install a working cannabis-growing system.

A third active case against them filed in June 2019 also involves investors at the ranch—RanchCo Management LLC—who loaned $300,000 to Feeling Groovy Wellness, Ms. Lanni confirmed.

According to Riverside Superior Court records, the Lannis, who have no attorney of record in the case, failed to appear at a hearing February 27. It was continued to May 27.

The greenhouse collapse was a major setback, Ms. Lanni said. She estimates they were scheduled to produce at least four crops worth about $1.5 million each. She said Feeling Groovy at Eagle Creek was forced to file bankruptcy this year, but she is hopeful the financial troubles are behind them.

“Eagle Creek is coming out of bankruptcy. We just got a settlement and our refi approved,” Ms. Lanni said.

There were other financial conundrums like an unlawful detainer complaint from Wells Fargo for more than $10,000 and a 2013 small claims suit against Access Property Management, a company she once owned with her former spouse. Both belong to her ex-husband, she told the COURIER.

Three additional bankruptcy filings—two in 2012 and one in 2014—were the result of her ex-husband’s girlfriend stealing her identity, Ms. Lanni said. The girlfriend was living in one of the couple’s rental homes and filed Chapter 13 under Ms. Lanni’s name in an effort to save the home, she said.

“She then opened 14 different accounts under my name. That’s all been resolved. There was a criminal action following,” Ms. Lanni explained. “None of them are on my credit report. I worked with the Riverside Courts and had that all cleared up. It wasn’t mine at all.”

The bankruptcies on her credit report were registered to 8200 Haven Ave., Rancho Cucamonga, which was also the address for a Feeling Groovy business that abruptly closed in December 2015, according to records.

“Rancho Cucamonga is very corporate. We set up my business in my apartment, but the city came in and said we didn’t apply for the CUP so they shut us down,” Ms. Lanni said.

After the Rancho Cucamonga business was shut down, Ms. Lanni said she and her husband moved to Corona.

Once the couple was settled in Corona, she explained that they began looking for retail spaces in Claremont. She had been very active with the Rancho Cucamonga Chamber, so once they found the 6,100 square foot space in the Sprouts Shopping Center over the summer of 2017, Ms. Lanni and Feeling Groovy joined the Claremont chapter.

But she said her history with Claremont goes back much further—she was accepted to two of the Claremont Colleges after high school and wanted to come here to study art, but plans were squashed when her mother didn’t support the decision.

“She wanted me to become an attorney and said she wouldn’t help me financially. I had a baby in high school so I stayed in Vegas and went to UNLV and took care of my daughter,” Ms. Lanni said.

FEELING GROOVY

Two weeks ago, Ms. Lanni admits, the paychecks to her employees at Feeling Groovy bounced after a wire that was supposed to come through never materialized.

On Tuesday morning an employee who asked to remain anonymous confirmed to the COURIER that Ms. Lanni had paid the staff with cash to cover the bounced payroll checks.

Further complicating matters, Ms. Lanni said, an employee broke in and stole $2,500 worth of equipment from the store.

 “We got most of it back. When we figured out who it was, we were able to get our things back,” she explained.

A former employee, Gabrielle Tunelle told the COURIER she had worked for Feeling Groovy on two separate occasions but was forced to quit both times.

“It was the most toxic place I have ever had to work,” Ms. Tunelle said.

Records from the National Labor Review Board show a complaint was filed in May 2019 by a Feeling Groovy employee charging Ms. Lanni with concerted activities (retaliation, discharge, discipline) and coercive statements (threats, promises of benefits, etc.). Ms. Lanni told the COURIER it was a big misunderstanding after an employee was hired to run the café.

“She just refused to do catering, so we let her go. Then she filed all this stuff against us,” Ms. Lanni said. “But we won hands down. It was a fabricated disgruntled employee.”

Ms. Lanni revealed that another civil suit—which isn’t on the court record yet—was recently filed against Feeling Groovy; this one brought by MGR Property Management who is trying to collect $44,000 in back rent. Ms. Lanni said this is about a disagreement over square footage at the Foothill Boulevard location.

“They’re awful,” Ms. Lanni said. “They said it was 6,100 square feet, but it’s actually about 4,200 square feet. It’s not the owner; he’s fabulous. It’s the property manager.”

She admits she stopped paying rent in December, but only after trying to resolve the issue with the property manager.

“We’ve been over-paying the whole time,” she said. “I’ve always paid my debts.”

Customers who have purchased Groupon deals and gift certificates for services at Feeling Groovy may feel like they have little recourse, but one customer, Maggie Tupman, said she was able to recoup some of her money.

“Groupon kindly refunded my credit card for purchases I had made,” she wrote in an email.

She’s relieved about settling with Groupon, but isn’t confident she’ll be able to get a refund on the gift certificate she purchased for her husband directly from the store.

As of Saturday morning, March 7, the Groupon was still offering deals at Feeling Groovy.

Ms. Lanni said her friends have reached out by text message this week, which she says was the hardest of her life, but the financial complications have resulted in her having to close the wellness center she loved so much.

She said she needs to close to focus on “regaining her quality of life,” adding that she hasn’t seen her grandbaby since Christmas, despite the fact he lives just 10 minutes away.

Ms. Lanni has told customers on Facebook that she is currently looking for new locations to re-open the store.

She’s given a lot to Claremont, she said, because she loves this community.

“Losing the store feels like losing a child,” Ms. Lanni said through tears. “I’ve never scammed anybody. I’ve never hurt anybody.”

Mr. Lopez told the COURIER in an interview that he is disappointed in the way things have played out. He said there weren’t any warning signs about financial problems and that once the Chamber board heard, they acted. He also maintains that he and the rest of the Chamber board knew little if anything about her finances.

“She represented the city. A lot of local people went to Feeling Groovy and had wonderful relationships with her. We’re grateful for that but it’s just really sad,” he said. “Hopefully everything will work out for her.”

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