The problems dogging Urban Commons’ Taylor Woods are moving from the legal sphere to the criminal one.
Prosecutors in Nassau County on Long Island charged Woods with two counts of grand larceny and one count of scheme to defraud, Newsday reported. Woods pleaded not guilty and was released without bail on Tuesday.
Woods’ lawyer pushed back against the charge, saying to the publication, “This is a business dispute. This is a failed investment opportunity in which my client lost more money than anyone else.”
The criminal charges stem from the same allegations that landed Woods on the radar of Los Angeles bankruptcy court three years ago. In 2021, Berritto Enterprises accused Urban Commons and two of its executives — including Woods — of taking a $1 million investment for a hotel venture, only to make off with the money after the deal collapsed. Prosecutors in Nassau County said there was a second victim who invested $200,000.
Woods allegedly proposed that the investors put their money in Sky Holdings, a limited liability company that would acquire a portfolio of 18 distressed hotels from Eagle Hospitality Trust. After Berritto allegedly deposited the funds, Woods misled the investor on the deal’s closing timeline, according to a lawsuit.
When Berritto demanded his money back, Woods went radio silent, according to the lawsuit. Prosecutors in Nassau County say Woods convinced the victims that almost everything was in place for the deal, when the victims were actually the only two putting money up.
Woods’ next court date is on March 13. He faces up to 15 years in prison if he’s convicted.
Urban Commons’ controversies span from coast to coast. The Los Angeles-based firm has been fighting a foreclosure attempt by its lender and allegations of unpaid bills at the Wagner Hotel in Lower Manhattan, which it bought for $151 million in 2018. The hotel was placed into bankruptcy and an auction was scheduled, though it’s unclear if it happened.
In 2021, Woods and his Urban Commons co-founder, Howard Wu, were labeled “fraudsters” by a judge in Delaware. The firm also infamously operated the RMS Queen Mary for a spell.
— Holden Walter-Warner