GRAMERCY — Former National Arts Club President O. Aldon James is suing a mom-and-pop hardware store for changing the locks to his apartments in the club's Gramercy Park mansion during a battle over control of the club that led to his ouster.
Warshaw Hardware, which has served the community since 1925, was named in the suit, along with the club at 15 Gramercy Park South. James served as president of the National Arts Club for more than two decades before he was kicked out last year for allegedly misusing club funds, charging below-market rent to himself, his twin brother and a friend, and using several of the club's apartments to hoard junk.
The suit claims that the club’s current president, Dianne Bernhard, did not seek James’ permission before hiring the hardware store to break his apartments' locks, remove his property, and replace the locks while he was out. As a result, the lawsuit claims, all of the evidence James needs to defend himself against an ongoing case brought by the state Attorney General was destroyed.
The Attorney General is currently suing James for allegedly using club funds to line his own pockets. The Manhattan District Attorney had also investigated James, but declined to bring criminal charges against him.
So much stuff was hauled out of James' apartments that Dumpsters had to be brought in to cart it away.
That included evidence such as "copies of papers, receipts, credit card records, and other financial records relating to Aldon James’ activities on behalf of the Club; paintings, antiques and decorations owned by Aldon James and on loan to the Club; 25 years’ worth of day planners showing Aldon James’ activities on the Club’s behalf," and other items, stated the lawsuit filed Feb. 21 in Manhattan Supreme Court.
“Defendants concede that they kept no records whatsoever of the 21 large construction dumpsters filled with Plaintiff’s property that they destroyed,” the lawsuit states. "These destroyed records were essential to Aldon James’ defense of multi-million dollar damage suits against him by both the Attorney General and the Club."
The lawsuit claims that the NAC board convinced the state Attorney General's office to bring the case based on "carefully edited Club records, many of which had been stolen from various storage rooms."
DNAinfo.com New York broke the story back in 2011 that O. Aldon James, his brother John James and lawyer Steven Leitner controlled at least four of the club's 40 apartments, and that the James brothers allegedly hoarded items inside their apartments, for which they charged themselves below-market rent.
Reached Monday about the lawsuit, James said: "A lot of effort was put into it, and it's self explanatory."
Edward Warshaw, a partner at Warshaw Hardware, said he was "a little disappointed that Mr. James decided to include me in his antics over there. I've known him for many years and I never had any bad feelings towards him."
The club has spent more than $500,000 on defending lawsuits from James in 2011 alone. A National Arts Club lawyer said James is again making baseless claims.
"I think the club is saddened that Mr. James has decided to file yet another meritless lawsuit," said Roland Riopelle, lawyer for the National Arts Club. "In this particular instance, he's decided to go after a totally innocent vendor in the neighborhood, who should never have been named to begin with."