Exclusive: Metrocenter Mall owner addresses allegations that she owes former associates $175K
Federal civil suit claims labor law, fraud, racketeering violations
JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Facing two federal civil suits, the owner of the Metrocenter Mall tells 3 On Your Side she didn’t employ two people who said they were never paid for their services, including someone who claimed to be a senior vice president for the organization.
Because they weren’t employees, owner Emily Seiferth Sanders said she doesn’t owe them money and told them several times that she would not be able to pay them unless she got enough funding for the renovations she’s planned at the state’s largest mall for months.
“I’m sorry for supporting someone that I thought would do the right thing,” said Katherine Parker, who served as the mall’s public relations director for more than six weeks.
Parker said her salary, by verbal agreement from Sanders, would have been $50,000 a year, but she didn’t get a dime and eventually resigned.
“[Sanders] said, ‘I am so sorry for that. I am so sorry for that,’” Parker said. “She was genuine.”
Her boss, Bill Grigsby, said he was the senior vice president for the mall. Grigsby said he had been promised a six-figure salary by verbal agreement.
“$125,000 a year as a base salary, 12.5 percent of the net profits paid on an annual basis, and an apartment would be included,” Grigsby said.
That money never materialized either, he said, and he had moved over a thousand miles to Mississippi on the promise that it would. Grigsby called his living space inside the mall substandard, too, with no hot water and only a communal shower.
Meanwhile, he said his savings were wasting away.
“We had $26 in our bank account. We were reduced to eating what canned goods we had in our kitchen, our makeshift kitchen,” Grigsby said.
Sanders agrees that she told them in the beginning she wouldn’t be able to pay them, but that’s about all they agree on.
The owner disputes Grigsby’s claim that he didn’t have hot water, and said social media posts showed him going to the fair and restaurants on occasion.
In an exclusive 3 On Your Side interview, Sanders also took issue with Parker’s claim of payment.
“[Parker] admitted in front of the officer today that Mr. Jones was supposed to pay her but she gets on television and says I have not paid her,” Sanders said. “This is the meat that Bill Grigsby left here, but he got on television saying he ate out of cans.”
The “Mr. Jones” she’s referring to is Christopher Jones, the investor who ended up pouring in more than $150,000 into the mall, repairing the roof and other parts of the building.
“I didn’t authorize the work,” Sanders said. “I didn’t authorize him to hire people or call people in.”
Sanders claims Jones didn’t give her receipts to document what he did spend, leaving her to question most of it.
In the end, a bank loan for $2 million, facilitated through Jones’ firm, was turned down by Sanders.
Jones said everything was in place for the facility to take off: competent staff, enough money to start opening, and essential repairs had been made.
“For the life of me, I can’t understand. How did you blow that up? And risk everything? And for what? We just can’t figure it out,” Jones said.
Sanders said the paperwork for the loan claimed she was at a meeting she never attended and gave Jones full discretion over how the two million would be spent, effectively taking the mall away from her.
“I turned down the loan because first of all, I felt like I’d be committing bank fraud,” Sanders said. “He’s saying that he will have sole discretion of the $2 million to do as he sees fit, and as he deems necessary.”
These disagreements will now be ironed out in federal court, with all three parties claiming Sanders owes them more than $175,000 dollars combined.
Jones and Grigsby have already filed civil suits without attorneys at this point, but both have retained counsel. Parker hopes to file her lawsuit soon, too.
Jones’ complaint alleges Sanders committed mail fraud, racketeering and violated federal RICO statute, claiming her family has a criminal enterprise.
“I think this should be the last scam for her. It was a big one,” Jones said, acknowledging Sanders’ previous conviction in 2013 of false pretense.
Sanders said she is not at fault regarding these recent accusations, and showed documents during her interview that she says backs up her story, though she did not provide copies of those documents to 3 On Your Side for verification, saying she’d have to talk to her lawyer first.
When asked about future funding for the mall, or if she’d be able to make the $84,000 tax payment coming up on the building this year, which still has more than a dozen tenants, Sanders responded the same way each time.
“I will not discuss my finances,” Sanders said. “To those people, if they want to help, then, you know, that’s one thing. But if they just want to ask questions, it’s not their business.”
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