CI VIEW: SmartCEO – Fear, Loathing, Failure and Charlottesville UPDATE

BALTIMORE/CHARLOTTESVILLE (BBN) — (Update on January 14, 2018 to add news of SmartCEO founder Craig Burris Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing and interview with SmartCEO founding editor David Callahan) The rise and fall of Baltimore-based EMI Media, INC. d/b/a SmartCEO – the 15-year-old event and business magazine – is a glaring example of the contrast between the downward mobility of white flight suburbs and the resurgence of urban economies in the United States.

[National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Interim President and CEO Derrick Johnson speaks to Capitol Intelligence/BBN using CI Glass on opportunity gap following speech to National Press Club of Washington, DC. August 29, 2017]

The contrast of the fortunes of urban economies to those of the suburbs can be seen in the rise and fall of SmartCEO and its founder, former suburban Bel Air, Maryland resident Craig Burris.  In less than a year, the 50-plus year-old Burris saw his fortunes rise to circa USD 40m before crashing down to personal and corporate bankruptcy and facing the real risk of imprisonment for fraud, embezzlement and larceny.

On January 11, 2018, Craig Burris filed Chapter 7 personal bankruptcy at the United States Bankruptcy Court for the District Maryland in Baltimore claiming to owe between USD 500,000 to USD 1m in debts, of which most incurred by EMI Media Inc, d/b/a SmartCEO.

However, the rising fortunes of our urban centers has breed a level of hostility, fear and prejudice in the once affluent suburbs not seen since the Boston school busing desegregation protests of the 1970s.

The most shocking images from Charlottesville was not the violence between neo-Nazis and the radical left, but the previous night’s torchlight procession of well-dressed suburban millennial males — filmed and reported by Elle Reeve of Vice News — chanting: “You will not replace us. Jews will not replace us. Blood and soil. Whose streets? Our streets! White lives matter.”

 

[Pro-Confederate Labor Day protest filmed by Capitol Intelligence/BBN using CI Glass over theremoval of Robert E. Lee statue at Emancipation Park in Charlottesville, Virginia. September 4, 2017]

Knowing the business and the high-quality level of SmartCEO events, the stake seemed reasonable for company with annual sales of almost USD 5m and a forecasted 2016 EBITDA of USD 700,000. Because of the barrier of entry for launching event businesses, high-quality event organizers are generally valued by media bankers at a conservative 10X cash flow positive sales.

SmartCEO publishes a magazine around their events such as SmartCEO Washington DC Future 50 awards for the best CEOs of companies in the USD 5m to USD 250m or events like the Brava awards for the most dynamic women leaders in the cities of Baltimore, Washington DC, Philadelphia and recent SmartCEO expansions to Boston, Charlotte and NYC and Long Island. Work was already underway to launch SmartCEO Milan in Europe’s foremost up-and-coming financial center.

One SmartCEO cover that caught my eye and interest was a May 2005 cover with AOL co-Founder and owner of DC NBA’s Wizards and NHL’s Capitals, Ted Leonsis.

I met Ted Leonsis the first time at The Economic Club of Washington, DC event where American Express CEO Kenneth Chenault was interviewed by The Carlyle Group co-Founder and co-CEO David Rubenstein. One of the topics raised by Chenault was AMEX’s recent purchase of Revolution Money, the electronics payments system, from Ted Leonsis’ Revolution Growth private equity fund co-founded with Aol partner Steve Case.

[Revolution and AOL co-founder and Monumental Sports CEO Ted Leonsis speaks to Capitol Intelligence/BBN using CI Glass at National Press Club in Washington, DC. Dec. 5, 2014. ]

Another notable SmartCEO Magazine issue was its May 2013 SmartCEO Magazine New York cover of Hip-Hop music label Def Jam Records founder Russell Simmons titled “Fully Integrated.” The success and style of Russell Simmons fits perfectly with Capitol Intelligence Group – Turning Swords into Equity(®) domestic financial newswire — Black Business News (BBN) — mission of economic empowerment and facilitating access to capital for dynamic minority, women-and-veteran owned businesses.

During an interview at his home in Sykesville, Maryland, SmartCEO co-founder and long-time editor David Callahan said he built up the nascent magazine by doign cover interviews with then emerging business leaders such as Ted Leonsis, Under Armour (NYSE:AA) founder Kevin Plank and then hip-hop industry superstar, Russell Simmons.

Callahan said he initially acquired a 10% stake in SmartCEO at 1x sales from Craig Burris. Following a dispute over strategy with Burris, Callaghan said he reached an agreement in 2011 to sell back his stake to Craig Burris for USD 200,000 or 0.5x sales over a five year period and is still owed USD 40,000.

The first sign the founder and majority owner of SmartCEO Craig Burris was truly a DumbCEO, clueless of the real value of his media business, was at the inaugural SmartCEO Brava award event for women business leaders held in Boston on October 18, 2016 and headlined no less by Massachusetts Republican Governor Charlie Baker.

Notwithstanding having the US governor responsible for biggest corporate win — the poaching of General Electric — SmartCEO ended up having the only minority awardee, a dynamic Chinese-American, complain about the lack of inclusion at the inaugural award dinner.

[Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker speaks to Capitol Intelligence/BBN using CI Glass at inaugural Smart CEO Brava Awards: Honoring top female CEOs at Boston Park Plaza Hotel. October 19, 2016]

SmartCEO award winners are chosen on a peer-to-peer system, where fellow CEOs and legal and financial advisers nominate who they believe merit recognition. However, as with the Boston Brava awards, the nomination process breaks down — as it does in corporate America — when there is no diversity in nominating committee.

My discussions of SmartCEO carrying out it past tradition of fairly recognizing the achievements of the most out-performing segment in America today –African-American female business leaders — was met with enthusiasm by both Black women business leaders and noted Fortune 100 leaders like The Coca-Cola Company Executive Chairman Muthar Kent.

Burris’ ability to never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity came to the head at SmartCEO investor pitch meeting Chicago with one of America’s most renowned private investors and entrepreneurs. Utilizing Capitol Intelligence Group’s intellectual property and resources, we were compelled to prep and educate SmartCEO’s Burris about the value and merits of the company he supposedly founded 15-years before.

[SmartCEO Media Founder and CEO Craig Burris speaks to Capitol Intelligence/BBN using CI Glass at SmartCEO’s Baltimore/Washington Skyline Awards. Bethesda, Maryland. May 4, 2015]

However, the discovery that SmartCEO Burris was less than a Smart CEO became apparent when attempts to carry-out buy-side due diligence were either stymied or deflected by Burris. Burris would refer us to his corporate attorney Andrew L. Jiranek of Towson, Maryland-based Jiranek & Partners but emails and phone calls remained unanswered by the seemingly illusive counselor.  .

The refusal or hesitation by the sell-side to allow due diligence is a major red flag for potential fraud in any securities offering, whether in the United States or Africa. After an independent investigation into the initial share offering, we discovered the law firm listed as SmartCEO corporate counsel and the drafter for the offering document, Jiranek, Goldman & Minton PC, was dissolved in 2003.

Guided by the best corporate governance practices principles in Sorbanes-Oxley and Dodd-Frank, I convened an extraordinary general shareholders meeting on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day January 16, 2017 to address glaring irregularities in the securities offering; SmartCEO status as a going concern; and evidence of racial bias by Craig Burris in dealings with advisers and consultants who happen to be African-American.

My fellow SmartCEO shareholders include Alexandria, Va-based R. Gore Bolton of the crowdfund, Shark Tank wannabe Piranha TankCharlie Wolf, Chairman and CEO of Rockville, Md-based Payroll NetworksPatrick Chalmers, CEO of Towson, MD-based Comfort Care MedicalEarl Furfine, CEO of Rockville, MD-based 5 AM SolutionsGary Pudles, President and CEO of Willow Grove, PA-based AnswernetMatthew Oros, freelance writer based in Strongville, Ohio; and Michael Waddell, CEO of Reston, VA-based INTERGRITYOne Partners.

Despite SmartCEO having posted a significant unexplained loss against a previous projection of a respectable 2016 profit, the vehemence and hostility to the EGM call by fellow shareholders was shocking both for crude and threatening language but also for the lack of concern regarding allegations of bigotry and racist bias by a company owner and CEO.

The hostility of fellow shareholders left no other option but to file an official complaint with Maryland Securities Commissioner, Melanie Senter Lubin, of the Maryland Attorney’s General Office.

While SmartCEO Burris’ sent out emails of record revenue growth in the first part of 2017, SmartCEO shareholders only discovered that SmartCEO went out of business and shut down operations from news reports in the Baltimore Sun and the Baltimore Business Journal on April 12, 2017. Burris even held a March 30, 2017 shareholder and board of directors conference call declaring everything was honky-dory at SmartCEO.

The very next day, Craig Burris phoned or emailed SmartCEO’s 15 or so full-time employees to inform them not to cash their April salary checks as they would bounce for insufficient funds, a SmartCEO source said.

A shareholders’ EGM conference was convened on April 18, 2017 by Gary A. Pudles — a fellow shareholder claiming to be an attorney admitted to the Maryland Bar. Pudles told shareholders that he was running the insolvency auction process because Burris was so broke that he did not have the “money to pay an attorney.”

SmartCEO April 19, 2017 AGM

[SmartCEO EGM audio recording on April 19, 2017 with SmartCEO Craig Burris, Gary Pudles, Piranha Tank Gore Bolton and Matthew Oros]

[Disclosure: Capitol Intelligence Group -Turning Swords into Equity and Answernet of Gary Pudles are currently are currently in civil litigation regarding the audio tape of the April 19, 2017 in Montgomery County Court in Norristown,, PA. The public record on this First Amendment jury trial can be viewed below:

https://courtsapp.montcopa.org/psi/v/detail/Case/201102333

Due to the urgency of the matter at hand, we decided to hand deliver Capitol Intel’s formal offer for Smart CEO to the Towson, MD law offices of Burris’ erstwhile attorney Drew Jiranek while accompanied by Tunisian Member of Parliament and the highest elected official of the ancient and strategic port city of Bizerte, the Hon. Ali Belakhoua.

[Capitol Intelligence Group, Inc – Turning Swords into Equity using CI Glass films the delivery of the takeover offer for all assets of SmartCEO to the law offices of Drew Jiranek At Jiranek & Company in Towson, Maryland on April 24, 2017 with Tunisian Member of Parliament Ali Belakhoua of Bizerte, Tunisia.]

The Tunisian MP Belakhoua was in Washington, DC as a parliamentary observer to the IMF World Bank Spring meetings in Washington, DC; was officially recognized at the Greater Washington DC Urban League Gala Dinner headlined by The Carlyle Group Co-Founder and Co-CEO David Rubenstein; and is working with Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh to forge a Sister City Partnership between Baltimore and Bizerte.

[Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh and Tunisian Member of Parliament and highest elected official of Bizerte, Hon. Ali Belakhoua filmed by Capitol Intelligence/BBN using CI Glass agreeing on Sister City partnership during Congressional Black Caucus Foundation Annual Legislative Conference in Washington, DC. September 20, 2017]

Notwithstanding meeting Rubenstein, US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and several Congressmen including US Civil Rights icon Congressman John Lewis of Georgia, the Princeton educated Drew Jiranek sends a racist email comparing the distinguished Member of Parliament of a country that has been formally recognized as a major non-NATO ally of the United States by President Barack Obama with a video showing a scene from Eddie Murphy’s Coming to America with a caricature of despotic and corrupt African King Jaffe Joffer (James Earl Jones) of Zamunda.

  1. Andrew Jiranek May 12 (1ago)  to peter, Craig, NeilWhile I strongly disagree with your barging into this office, unannounced, with the announced Government Official from Tunisia, and posting that video on YouTube, it reminded me of this video that is posted on YouTube.

  • [Confidential legal communications redacted]
  • Drew
  • Andrew L. Jiranek
  • (admitted to practice in MD, DC and VA)
  • Principal & Managing Attorney
  • Jiranek & Company, P.A.
  • 16 Willow Avenue
  • Baltimore, MD [sic] 21286
  • (410)769-9070 (wk)
  • (410)825-2583 (fax)
  • (410)808-0486 (cell)
  • Email: ajiranek@jiranekcompany.com
  • Skype Name: andrewjiranek
  • Jiranek, rather than apologizing for the racist and offensive email, justifies his comment by replying:
  • Peter:
  • Here is another video captured with google glass to add to your publications, website and twitter handles:
  • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c2glOppqBRg
  • But, with regard to your published story on Twitter, why would you call Zamunda King Jaffe Joffer (character from Eddie Murphy’s movie “Coming to America”) “corrupt?” Because he is African? Because he is not white? That seems stereotypical and racist to me? Are you a racist?
  • Drew Jiranek

Mr. Jiranek’s highly offensive and bigoted mail — which has been forwarded to the Tunisian Ambassador the United States Faysal Gouia and Greater Washington DC Urban League President and CEO George H. Lambert, Jr. — is unfortunately symptomatic of a new form of racism found in what urban and rural Americans are beginning to define as Caucasia, the formerly well-to-do white flight suburbs.

After 15-years of operation, SmartCEO Craig Burris decided on April 12 to close shop in the middle of the night while owing creditors, employees and service providers over USD 1m and sneak off to his luxury wharf-side condo located next door to SmartCEO’s office at 2700 Light House Point in Baltimore.

SmartCEO published magazines around their events such as SmartCEO Washington DC Future 50 awards for the best CEOs of companies in the USD 5m to USD 250m or events like the Brava awards for the most dynamic women leaders in the cities of Baltimore, Washington DC, Philadelphia and recent SmartCEO expansions to Boston, Charlotte and NYC and Long Island. Work was already underway to launch SmartCEO Milan in Europe’s foremost up-and-coming financial center.

SmartCEO shareholders such as myself only discovered that SmartCEO went out of business and shut down operations from news reports in Baltimore Business Journal and Charlotte Business Journal on April 12, 2017. Burris told shareholders and board of directors that everything was “honky-dory” at SmartCEO on a March 30, 2017 shareholder conference call.

The very next day, Craig Burris phoned or emailed SmartCEO’s 15 or so full-time employees to inform them not to cash their April salary checks as they would bounce for insufficient funds, former SmartCEO employee Lauren Faby said. He also stiffed the landlord out of USD 33,000 when he slipped out on April 12, the lawyer representing the property, Kevin J. Pascale, said.

[American City Business Journal (ACBJ) Baltimore Business Journal Publisher Rhonda Pringle filmed by Capitol Intelligence/BBN using CI Glass (google glass) to discuss SmartCEO bankruptcy at BBJ offices in Baltimore on August 8, 2017.]

As Baltimore Sun and BBJ readers found out about SmartCEO undeclared bankruptcy, they were informed of the “alleged” relaunch of SmartCEO magazine in a August 29 “exclusive”  in the Baltimore Business Journal quoting the purported new owner, James McDonald in partnership with Craig BurrisMcDonald was behind the failed Region’s Business business magazine for which McDonald claimed to have received “a significant investment” from Philadelphia philanthropist Raymond Perelman.  

Melissa Sawyer, who headed SmartCEO Charlotte, said she can guarantee that SmartCEO under James McDonald and Craig Burris will never relaunch in Charlotte after Craig Burris pocketed money for upcoming events from such notables as Brandy Milazzo, co-founder of Milazzo Schaffer Webb in Charlotte. Ms. Sawyer said that SmartCEO owed her USD 24,000 and that she had rescinded a offer by McDonald for partial payment.   

Ms. Sawyer also said McDonald told her that he was working on behalf of Richard Connor, the owner of Dallas, Texas-based Fort Worth Business event and magazine group. Connor, who was accused of embezzling USD 500,000 while CEO of Maine Today Media in 2012 by the newspaper group’s new publisher, Lisa DeSisto. Richard Connor declined to comment after numerous emails while SmartCEO Craig Burris claimed he “has never heard of Connor” at the last company’s AGM.

However, SmartCEO current corporate headquarters are the exact same as that of Fort Worth Business: 101 Summit Ave, Suite 803 Fort Worth, TX 76102

Connor also has a checkered past as media owner and was accused of embezzling some USD 500,000 when he was the CEO of Maine Today Media.

Neither American City Business Journal CEO Whitney Shaw nor Baltimore Business Journal Publisher Rhonda Pringle responded why the BBJ published the “exclusive” after originally reporting the fraudulent bankruptcy of SmartCEO months earlier in the BBJ and a Charlotte Business Journal citing Ms. Sawyer.  

Shaw, whose late father Ray Shaw sold ACBJ to the Conde Nast Newhouse family’s Advance Publications for USD 269m, declined all comment other than to protest over “gender identity” when mistaken for a woman.

Also, while I understand that gender identity can make for arresting headlines these days, I’m a “Mr.” not a “Ms.” and never have been. w

By PK Semler in Washington, DC and Baltimore, Maryland. For more information please call 202-549-3399 or email: pks@capitolintelgroup.com

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