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September 16, 2019Cart

Business

by Westchester County Business Journal
by WCBJ

Partners fighting over gift shop for Jehovah’s Witnesses

Photo from BestLife Gifts’ website.

A Jehovah’s Witness who partnered with a couple he trusted based on their shared faith is suing them over ownership of a religion-themed gift shop in Orange County.

Greg Holland of Victoria, British Columbia, claims in a federal lawsuit that Thomas and Nanci Matos of Pine Bush, coerced him into relinquishing his property.

“Through deceit and intimidation, the Matoses stole Holland’s investment and interest in Ministry Ideaz LLC,” the complaint states. “The Matoses then used Ministry Ideaz’s inventory and cash to establish their own competing business.”

Holland went through a “disfellowship” in January, for his conduct, Thomas Matos replied, and is no longer a Jehovah’s Witness. “As far as all the other charges, they are baseless and we look forward to disproving them in court.”

Holland started Ministry Ideaz in 2002 as an online business from his home in Ecuador. The company makes and sells leather and paper products – such as Bible covers, notebooks and calendars – for Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Last year, he decided to open a store in the U.S. He met the Matoses through a mutual friend and, “based on his trust of fellow members of the Jehovah’s Witness faith, agreed to partner with them.”

Holland held 90 percent of the New York company, and the Matoses owned the rest.

Holland claims he wired more than $40,000 to the Matoses to set up the store and then another $190,000 to cover expenses for nine months. He shipped $250,000 in inventory from Ecuador that he hoped would sell at retail for $750,000.

In May 2017, they opened a storefront in Valley Supreme Plaza in Pine Bush, 25 miles from the Jehovah’s Witnesses headquarters.

Business was good. The store sold $38,837 in goods in the first month and another $250,000 in credit card transactions over the following four months.

But Holland became estranged from his wife in late 2017, having engaged in an extramarital affair. His wife moved to Canada with their two children.

Holland describes the Matoses as his “surrogate parents.” They offered emotional support during his marital troubles and assured him that he need not worry about the business because it was in their good hands.

At the same time, Holland alleges, the Matoses were trying to persuade his wife to divorce him, seek sole custody of their children and “extract a financial settlement.”

The Matoses, the complaint states, were already “secretly scheming to steal Holland’s entire investment.”

They registered BestLife Gifts LLC in February, using the Ministry Ideaz address.

On March 2, the Matoses held a “special meeting” at their home and decided to dissolve the company. Holland, the majority owner, claims he was not notified.

Thomas Matos emailed him on the same day, stating, “We are severing ties!”

“The store sign has been removed, the lease has ended, utilities, phones and internet cancelled,” the message said.

“There has been far to (sic) much pressure on Nanci and I being in business with you,” the message stated. “Being associated with Ministry Ideaz has become a liability that has already damaged us.”

To this day, according to the July 25 lawsuit, BestLife operates from the same storefront as Ministry Ideaz, uses the same telephone numbers and sells the same inventory.

On March 5, the complaint states, Thomas Matos threatened to reveal Holland’s marital problems to the customers he had cultivated for 16 years and to stop processing about 1,000 online orders.

Matos allegedly offered a deal. He would not follow through on the threats if Holland signed over his entire interest in Ministry Ideaz, agreed to dissolve the company and relinquished the equipment and inventory.

Holland says he signed the one-page agreement, “fearing that the Matoses would ruin his livelihood and his relationship with his family and his church.”

Holland reconciled with his wife, moved to Canada and “began to grasp the extent of the Matoses’ deceit.”

He is demanding $300,000 in damages, and he wants the court to declare the dissolution deal null and void and to bar the Matoses and BestLife from selling inventory and assets.

Holland is represented by Jack A. Gordon, Joshua B. Katz and Luis F. Calvo of Kent, Beatty & Gordon LLP in Manhattan.