Point Breeze developer and unsuccessful City Council candidate Ori Feibush filed a lawsuit Tuesday against his failed campaign's political consultant, claiming the adviser bilked Feibush out of more than $106,000 in campaign funds.
Locked in an acrimonious bid to unseat 2nd District Councilman Kenyatta Johnson, Feibush said he paid influential 2nd Ward leader Ed Nesmith in April to rent vans, rally Election Day workers, and dispense “walking around money” during May’s primary.
But the suit alleges that Nesmith, a construction company owner and reported ally of electricians union boss John Dougherty's, simply took the money and didn’t follow through on those responsibilities. It accuses the ward leader of fraud and breach of contract.
Although Nesmith’s ward lies largely outside Johnson’s council district, according to the filing, Feibush sought and secured Nesmith’s political support for his council run in August 2014. The two later drew up a formal contract, via email exchanges, in which Nesmith would organize ground operations for Feibush.
That contract, according to the suit, details plans to assemble “320 Election Day workers,” rent “fifteen large vans” and drivers, and budgeted expenses for gas, food and street money.
Nesmith estimated this would cost around $58,000. However, the contract also stipulated that Feibush sign over a $50,000 promissory note to cover unanticipated expenses, and pay $2,000 per week to organize a month’s worth of “cookouts and coffee clutches,” for a grand total of nearly $116,000.
The ward leader is no stranger to City Council races — Nesmith ran unsuccessfully for an at-large council seat in 2011.
By the primary election on May 19, Feibush’s campaign had already paid out $86,000 to a political action committee called COPS (or Citizens Organizing for Pennsylvania Securities) that Nesmith controls, the suit claims. Feibush paid another $20,000 before it became clear that Nesmith “had spent little of the money [Feibush] had paid him,” according to the suit.
A message left for Nesmith was not immediately returned. In a column by The Next Mayor project’s Tom Ferrick Jr. published on Tuesday — prior to the lawsuit's filing — Nesmith said he had receipts for every dollar spent. However, Ferrick also reported that Nesmith failed to file campaign finance reports for COPS or the 2nd Ward, as required by the state and city.
The suit claims Nesmith rebuffed Feibush’s demands for receipts and, eventually, a refund, through a string of “bizarre emails,” in which the ward leader spoke in the third person.
“Nesmith will provide invoice for his service but you gave Nesmith check,” he allegedly wrote in one exchange. “If I have Receipts I wouldn’t give them to you ANYWAY! They are not YOURS, understand!”
In a final email, after several cryptic references to Abraham Lincoln, Nesmith seems to suggest that Feibush owes him another $106,000.
Feibush is seeking costs incurred as well as damages in excess of $50,000.
At a recent City Council session, Feibush’s former political opponent, Kenyatta Johnson, said he had heard about the developer’s troubles with Nesmith.
“I guess that’s what can happen when you play this game,” Johnson said.