CI VIEW: SmartCEO – Fear, Loathing and Failure in Caucasia UPDATE

WASHINGTON/BALTIMORE (BBN) —   The rise and fall of Baltimore-based SmartCEO Media – the 15-year-old event and business magazine – is a glaring example of stark contrast between the downward mobility of white flight suburbs and the resurgence of the Urban economies in the United States.

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

The birth of SmartCEO occurred when US cities, or urban economies, were marked by high-crime and economic blight.  SmartCEO cities such as Washington DC; Baltimore and Philadelphia were considered almost no-go zones for many whites.

Today, Washington DC has achieved the greatest economic renaissance in the history of the world’s largest economy, and other US cities are poaching major Fortune 100  companies out of suburbia back to the inner cities for human capital and growth as witnessed by General Electric (NYSE:GE) decision to transfer its global headquarters to Boston from diversity challenged Fairfield, Connecticut [1.8% African-American].

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 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 serious risk of imprisonment for fraud and larceny.

The adventure with SmartCEO started after a late-afternoon mid-January meeting in 2016 at Burris’ offices at the sailing docks at Baltimore’s Lighthouse Point.  Burris, who I knew from his SmartCEO Future 50 events, offered me the last 2% of a 10% stake in the company he was selling for a consideration of USD 81,000.

[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]

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.

IMG_20170513_1134031

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.

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.

[Coca-Cola Chief Executive Officer Muhtar Kent speaks to Capitol Intelligence/BBN using CI Glass on Women Empowerment following panel Gender and Macroeconomics with IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde at IMF World Bank Spring Meetings in Washington, DC. April 20, 2017]

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 founder and CEO Craig Burris pre-IPO pitch filmed by Capitol Intelligence using CI Glass at the offices of Loeb & Loeb in Washington, DC. November 1, 2016]

After the successful pitch meeting in Chicago — valuing SmartCEO at USD 45-50m — SmartCEO Burris managed to demonstrate his total ineptitude by going to Chicago’s O’Hare Airport rather than Chicago’s Southside Midway Airport in a Uber share with Washington, DC-based Tagglefish founder and owner of the minority-owned social network company and star of the Chicago meeting, Kawani Belk.

However, the discovery that SmartCEO Burris was more than a DumbCEO 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 Drew 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.

[Smart CEO advisory board members Piranha Tank founder and Gelberg AEC director R. Gore Bolton and SmartCEO founder Craig Burris filmed by Capitol intelligence/BBN using CI Glass at SmartCEO annual company meeting at Havana Club in Baltimore, Maryland. Feb. 11, 2016]

My fellow SmartCEO shareholders include Alexandria, Va-based R. Gore Bolton of the crowdfund, Shark Tank wannabe Piranha Tank; Charlie Wolf, Chairman and CEO of Rockville, Md-based Payroll Networks; Patrick Chalmers, CEO of Towson, MD-based Comfort Care Medical; Earl Furfine, CEO of Rockville, MD-based 5 AM Solutions; Gary 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.

One of the apparent reasons for SmartCEO’s rapid demise was an inexplicable decision by Burris to transfer company resources and top SmartCEO sales staff to Gore Bolton‘s crowdfund Piranha Tank.  Crowdfunders — in stark contrast to the countless legitimate minority-and-veteran owned companies favored by the US Securities Exchange Commission through the Jobs Act — are mainly derivative get rich quick schemes dreamt-up by suburban millennials on the lines of Uber for Dogs. Piranha Tank is holding its next crowdfund extravaganza at George Washington University journalism school’s prestigious Jack Morton Auditorium on June 6, 2017.

The continued abuse of Jobs Act legislation by crowdfunders has led people to spam unsolicited investment offerings such as a request for a USD 140,000 for a wannabe competitor to the great Baltimore Sun newspaper,  the suburbanite-orientated sports blog named Baltimore Sports & Life founded by Christopher R. Stoner.   Piranha Tank owner Gore Bolton is also soliciting investors through NYC-based crowdfunding platform, Gust.

Another business leader directly associated with Craig Burris is the founder and former chairman of Baltimore-based Stanton Chase human resources group and Burris neighbor in Fenwick Island, DE., H. Edward (Ted) Muendel.

[Nasdaq, INC CEO and President Adena T. Friedman speaks to Capitol Intelligence/BBN using CI Glass on Nasdaq Private Market and the Jobs Act at the Economic Club of Washington DC. May 5, 2017]

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 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 submitted an offer to SmartCEO conditional on Chapter 7 or insolvency filing. Rival offers include R. Gore Bolton of Piranha Tank; and one by Fort Worth Business Press owner Richard Connor.]

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.

Steven Mnuchin

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.

Andrew Jiranek
May 12 (1ago)
to peter, Craig, Neil

While 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.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3eqyUeyDOiY

[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

[Tunisian Member of Parliament and highest elected official of Bizerte Ali Belakhoua filmed by Capitol Intelligence/BBN using CI Glass greeting Civil Rights leader US Congressman John Lewis (D-GA) and recognition at the Greater Washington DC Urban Gala dinner in Washington, DC.]

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.

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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