Falling star

In the black business community, Alphonso Solomon's promise isn't worth much anymore

Solomon's accusers said Solomon had improperly bled about one-half-million dollars from the college. Solomon, on the other hand, claimed he was entitled to all the money he paid himself and his companies.

After studying the case, the judge saw it differently than Solomon. Felsenthal concluded that Solomon could not justify $224,724 of the money he had taken from the college, and ordered Solomon to pay it back. Many of the payments Solomon made to himself after Johnny Graham died were never properly recorded in the college's books, the judge found.

Solomon appealed Felsenthal's ruling, and lost twice on appeal. A bankruptcy trustee has since struck a deal in which Solomon would give up all his interest and stock in the college in exchange for $80,000. While the barber college has agreed to the deal, and Felsenthal has signed off on it, Solomon is appealing.

Even as he was sinking into controversy at Graham Barber College, Solomon became involved with another business venture that would end in messy litigation.

Solomon was approached in 1991 by a fledgling black business cooperative led by Dr. Willie Harris. A graphic designer, Harris had a dream that would allow black businessmen to own their own building. He envisioned a cooperative arrangement where small companies would buy stock, form a company, and buy property. Extra space could be rented out to other businesses.

"I wanted to get away from the plantation mentality--a feeling that...we as African-Americans have to move into buildings owned by [non-African-Americans]," Harris says in an interview. "My concept was, let's do for ourselves."

Harris rounded up friends to buy an office building at 7010 American Way in South Oak Cliff. Because there were six investors, they dubbed their new group Unique VI Corporation. But the group was unable to raise the full $160,000 needed to buy the building.

Enter Solomon. Harris was introduced to Solomon through Darren Reagan, whose father is the pastor at Solomon's church, Eastgate Baptist. Reagan told Harris that Solomon was a financial consultant and a Quest for Success award winner who could find them the money.

Harris met Solomon and found him to be a very pleasant, affable man. "He was very soft-spoken--a gentleman in the fullest sense of the word," Harris recalls.

So Harris asked Solomon to help raise the last $60,000 Unique VI needed to buy the building. Solomon agreed, Harris says, but in return Solomon wanted to be majority shareholder and wanted his company to get a contract managing the building and doing Unique VI's books. Harris and the others agreed.

"It didn't strike us as odd at the time," Harris says. "We felt this guy came with the highest recommendations and was a Quest for Success awardee. I had no reason to feel that the fellow was questionable."

Solomon helped secure a loan from Bank One, and Unique VI bought the building. Then, Harris says, everything changed.

Harris says that during one of the first meetings of the newly constituted group, he brought out an architectural rendering of improvements for the building. As he explained his idea, Solomon cut him off. "We don't need any of that," Solomon said.

"How can you tell us what we need?" Harris asked.
"Because I'm majority shareholder," Harris recalls Solomon saying.
Harris says that Solomon made it very clear that the one-share majority Solomon held gave him the power to do "anything he wanted." And, Harris says, Solomon did, starting with getting rid of Harris.

"The first meeting we had with him, he told them, 'You don't need Dr. Harris anymore. I can make you all rich,'" Harris recalls. "And they voted me out."

Harris wasn't going to go without a fight, and in 1992, he and two other Unique VI members filed suit against Solomon, trying to get back the stock they issued Solomon, along with the company's financial records. The suit claimed that Solomon removed Harris as the registered agent for Unique VI illegally.

Harris also objected to Solomon's management of the building. Harris claims Solomon forced out tenants he didn't like, and got rid of one tenant so Solomon could install a business of his own in the office space.

As had happened earlier with the barber college, Solomon and his partners in Unique VI soon wound up in court, suing each other over the deterioration of their business relationship. Ultimately, Unique VI received a $30,000 claim against Solomon's assets in his bankruptcy.

Solomon filed for Chapter 11 reorganization in 1994, listing $300,000 in assets and more than $450,000 in liabilities with the court. But even the bankruptcy has taken on a complicated life of its own.

Although Solomon has tried twice to reorganize under Chapter 11, he has been forced into Chapter 7 dissolution after failing to abide by his reorganization plan. A trustee, Robert Milbank, was appointed to dissolve Solomon's assets.

Solomon, according to court documents, was accused of not living up to his reorganization plan. Milbank claimed that Solomon failed to put up $50,000 he had promised to make the reorganization plan work.

It seems as if Milbank couldn't do anything to please Solomon. Court documents show a laundry list of complaints Solomon had against the trustee. Solomon didn't think Milbank got enough money for some assets, and didn't like the fact that Milbank wasn't sitting in on board meetings for Unique VI or Graham Barber College to make sure Solomon's interests were protected. Solomon certainly didn't like Milbank's efforts to force the case into dissolution. So, Solomon sued Milbank. Although Solomon lost the case, he is awaiting word on his appeal.

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