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DJ Envy Facing Real Estate Scam Allegations: Everything You Need To Know

today10/12/2023

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Five months after an Instagram account first accused New York City radio host DJ Envy of being complicit in a multi-million dollar real estate investment scam in New Jersey, the situation has turned into a sprawling web of lawsuits, countersuits, bankruptcies and media coverage.

In at least 20 civil cases filed in recent months, dozens of investors claim that Cesar Pina and wife Jennifer Pina, New Jersey developers with famous friends, ripped them off — either through failed house flipping, a stalled apartment development project, or a startup they said would empower small investments in real estate.

Many of those lawsuits, including one filed by music industry veteran Anthony Martini, name DJ Envy (RaaShaun Casey) as a co-defendant, citing close ties to Pina. They claim Envy helped to promote the alleged schemers, including through appearances on The Breakfast Club, his nationally-syndicated hip hop radio show. One case says Envy “aided and abetted” the fraudsters by “using his public likeness as a well-known radio disc jockey to promote their real estate scheme.”

Firing back, Envy says those kinds of allegations are not only false — he says he himself is also a victim of Pina’s alleged scheme — but also defamatory. He’s suing the social media influencer who first publicized the allegations, claiming he “spewed” lies to promote his own real estate business, and he’s demanding to be dismissed from the investor lawsuits.

“They’re sensationalizing this situation,” said Envy’s lawyer, Massimo F. D’Angelo of the law firm Blank Rome, in a phone interview with Billboard. “Envy had no involvement whatsoever. The only reason he’s being dragged into this is because he’s a public figure.”

How did we get here? What exactly are the accusations? And what comes next? Here’s everything you need to know about the growing scandal.

Who is Cesar Pina?

Pina has long pitched himself a real estate guru, frequently posting about his work to a star-studded Instagram page featuring shots of Pina with Snoop Dogg, 50 Cent, Post Malone and Meek Mill. On his website, he says he’s been rehabbing and flipping homes in the Garden State for over a decade; he claims to own 1,100 rental properties in Paterson, N.J., alone.

One of the celebs frequently pictured with Pina was DJ Envy, who for more than a decade has co-hosted The Breakfast Club, a popular hip hop-focused radio talk show on New York’s Power 105.1. And the two had a close public relationship beyond social media: Over the years, Pina has repeatedly appeared on the show as a guest, and he and Envy co-hosted a series of seminars on real estate investing from 2018 onward.

As recently as June 2022, Pina made an appearance on The Breakfast Club to plug an investment platform he was launching called Flip 2 Dao, which would allow users to make small, fractional investments in real estate projects. Throughout the interview, Envy repeatedly touted his relationship with the developer and the value of the new investment tool.

“People always ask, how can I invest with you guys? And we never take anybody’s money,” Envy told listeners. “Now there will be a way where people can actually invest to be a part owner on some of the projects that we actually buy.”

What are the accusations?

Back in May, an Instagram account called TonyTheCloser (real name Tony Robinson) began making serious allegations of wrongdoing against Pina. In a series of videos and live streams, Robinson claimed that Pina had used his celebrity status to defraud numerous people, taking their money to invest in flipping properties with the promise of big profits, but ultimately returning little or nothing.

He also claimed that Envy had played a key role in the fraud by promoting Pina to his listeners. At various times, Robinson called the radio host a “thief,” “criminal,” and “scammer,” claiming he had “stolen millions” from investors and aided a “Ponzi scheme” — an infamous form of fraud in which the perpetrator creates the façade of a real business by paying earlier victims with funds from later victims.

Those social media allegations quickly turned into a wave of civil lawsuits filed in New Jersey state courts.

In a May complaint, a company called Amy Flips claimed it had provided Pena with $500,000 to invest in properties and lost all but $30,000. A month later, attorneys for a New York man named Trevor Roman alleged he was owed $280,000 by Pina and his companies, saying their client was “one of many who fell prey to these fraudulent and deceptive tactics.” In July, a New Jersey man named Paul Peralta claimed that he had given Pina $600,000 in four payments as part of a “Ponzi scheme and investment scam” — and he specifically claimed the scheme had been promoted by “a radio show called The Breakfast Club.”

Martini, the music executive, also filed his case in July. Joined by another spurned investor named Anthony Barone, their lawyers claimed they had lost $1.5 million after Pina duped them into investing in a massive, 50-unit apartment project in Paterson that was never completed, as well as another $300,000 that they invested in the Flip 2 Dao platform.

But they also went a step further, naming DJ Envy as an actual defendant in the lawsuit. They claimed the DJ had not only plugged Pina on the air, but that he had personally attended a pitch meeting with Barone, and that he had joined Pina in leading a guided tour for big-wig investors around his New Jersey properties. Martini and Barone’s lawyers also specifically cited Pina’s June 2022 appearance on The Breakfast Club, in which he plugged Flip 2 Dao.

“But for Casey’s role in lending legitimacy to the real estate investments and portraying himself as a partner to the Pinas, plaintiffs would not have invested their money,” wrote Sean Mack, an attorney at the law firm Pashman Stein Walder Hayden and lead counsel for Martini and Barone.

All told, Pina is currently facing 20 lawsuits, almost half of which have been filed just since the beginning of August; Envy is named as a defendant in nine of those cases. It’s unclear exactly how much money Pina is alleged to owe his investors, but in an August filing, Martini’s lawyers claimed that more than 30 victims had come forward seeking over $40 million.

Pina’s lawyer, Steven Griegel of the firm Roselli Griegel Lozier & Lazzaro, did not return a request for comment from Billboard. But in at least one case against his client, he has argued that Pina’s investor did get their initial investment back — and that by demanding the huge profits they say they were promised, they are actually the ones violating New Jersey law.

“The plaintiff in this case is boldly seeking the court’s assistance to recover [triple] damages and attorneys’ fees for loansharking, even after it has been paid amounts in excess of New Jersey’s criminal usurious laws,” Griegel wrote in one case. “Obviously, the court should not be a part of validating this.”

Despite TonyTheCloser’s claims, there have been no allegations of criminal wrongdoing against either Pina or Envy.

What has DJ Envy said?

Since immediately after the allegations first cropped up in May, DJ Envy has denied that he did anything wrong, including during an interview with TonyTheCloser on an Instagram livestream. He says that he was not directly involved with any of Pina’s deals mentioned in the lawsuits, that he never solicited money from anyone during their seminars, and that he was not aware of any fraudulent activity.

But that hasn’t quieted the growing scandal. On Tuesday, New York’s local NBC affiliate ran an investigative piece under the headline “Real estate rip-off? Radio DJ promoted alleged NJ scheme leaving investors out of millions.” The story included interviews with numerous alleged victims, including a couple who say they invested with Pina “after seeing him on social media with DJ Envy.”

“He’s advertising this all over radio and television, so I thought this was legit,” the victim said in the NBC report. “We invested $200,000 and it looks like we won’t ever get it back.”

On Wednesday, Envy directly addressed the allegations on The Breakfast Club: “Cesar, if he took money, I wasn’t privy to it, nor did I even know. But I do understand how people feel if they did give him money, because I gave him a lot of money [and] I didn’t see a dollar of return. But for anybody to say that I was involved, that’s totally not true.”

In legal filings, Envy’s lawyers have made similar arguments. They say the DJ was also “lured” to invest $500,000 in separate project, meaning he “may be a victim of the Pina’s alleged fraudulent conduct” just like the plaintiffs. And they say that he was not involved in any Pina’s deals with spurned investors, nor made any direct “representations” to anyone regarding those transactions.

“Plaintiffs’ real targets are clearly the Pinas given Mr. Casey’s lack of involvement,” wrote D’Angelo, in a filing on Friday aimed at getting Envy dismissed from Martini’s case. “In an attempt to sensationalize this case, however, plaintiffs included Mr. Casey … as a defendant in this case. Plaintiffs’ conduct is wrongful and has caused, and continues to cause, significant damage to Mr. Casey’s reputation and businesses.”

But what about the fact that Envy repeatedly made public appearances with Pina and invited him onto The Breakfast Club? That’s been a common refrain from victims and other critics, who say the DJ used his sizable public platform to lend legitimacy to a scammer.

Legally speaking, Envy’s lawyers say that behavior simply does not rise to the level of active endorsement or direct involvement that would put their client on the hook for Pina’s alleged scheme. They say the DJ and his show were “used” by Pina, just like other media outlets and celebrities.

“Plaintiffs cannot plausibly or convincingly allege that Mr. Casey’s radio and social media interviews were the sole and principle reason for their investments, rather than the specific misrepresentations made by the Pinas directly to the plaintiffs,” D’Angelo wrote in that same court filing. “Mr. Casey has interviewed thousands of guests on The Breakfast Club, including celebrities and entrepreneurs, who have discussed various topics including their life experiences and businesses.”

DJ Envy has also quietly moved from defense to offense. In a federal lawsuit filed in August, he sued TonyTheCloser for defamation, interference with his business, and invasion of privacy. He claims that Robinson’s allegations against him are false — and that they’re part of money-making scheme to drive attention toward his own real estate business.

“Defendant, knowingly and intentionally, spewed false slanderous and defamatory misinformation about the plaintiff, which has, and continues to severely damage plaintiff,” wrote D’Angelo, who is also repping Envy in that case. “Defendant engaged in this wrongful conduct for the purposes of increasing traffic on his social media sites for his own personal gain in the form of paid advertisements.”

Robinson did not return a request for comment on the allegations.

What comes next?

Two of Pina’s companies, Whairhouse Real Estate Investments LLC and Taylor Court Apartments LLC (the company that administered the 50-unit apartment project in Paterson), have filed for federal bankruptcy since start of August. His wife Jennifer, who is named in many of the civil lawsuits, has repeatedly attempted to file for personal bankruptcy, but has been rejected for procedural defects. Pina himself does not yet appear to have sought bankruptcy protection.

Fearing that they’ll never have a chance to recover their money, some of Pina’s aggrieved investors have already jumped into those bankruptcy cases, demanding that the court appoint a trustee — an independent attorney chosen by the U.S. Department of Justice to oversee the case and make sure that any remaining money is fairly allocated to creditors. And those arguments worked: Last week, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Rosemary Gambardella ruled in both bankruptcy cases that a Chapter 11 trustee was needed to sort out the messy web of alleged debts and wrongdoing.

That ruling came after attorneys for Pina’s creditors argued that a single combined bankruptcy case, administered by one trustee, would be better than dozens of separate lawsuits at “unraveling of this wide-ranging fraud and the marshalling of assets to satisfy the scores of victims.”

“This will soon become the proverbial race to the courthouse to seize whatever assets remain of the Pinas and their entities,” wrote attorney Mack, the lawyer who represents Barone and Martini in their case against Pina and Envy. “A trustee is needed in this case, and in the cases of the related debtor parties, to organize and efficiently marshal and distribute the remaining assets to the Pinas’ many victims.”

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