Michigan bank 'purged' black clients, destroyed popular BBQ restaurant, lawsuits say
GRAND RAPIDS, MI – The former owners of the award-winning barbecue restaurant Sandmann's have joined other black business owners who say Mercantile Bank pushed loans, then abruptly called them in and destroyed their businesses.
They contend that Mercantile wanted to be rid of loans held by blacks and destroyed dozens of Grand Rapids-area businesses in the process.
This is the ninth case that has been removed from Kent County Circuit Court and filed in U.S. District Court in Grand Rapids.
This most recent case was filed Wednesday, Oct. 28, by the bankruptcy trustee for the estates of the former owners.
Randall Sandifer and his wife, Ursula Mann-Sandifer, owned the former restaurant at 1200 Wealthy St. SE They met with a bank worker Pat Julien in 2004 and obtained a 20-year, $330,000 construction loan to renovate their restaurant.
They said they were up to date with payments until 2008. Some payments were late, but they were never delinquent. The bank took no action against them.
Then, in December 2012, Mercantile told the Sandifers that their mortgage, $326,362.22, was due that month, attorney Derek Witte wrote in the lawsuit.
Mercantile foreclosed and the popular eatery shut its doors.
"Mercantile called the Plaintiffs' debts as part of its 'concerted' effort to rid itself of black business borrowers," Witte said.
"Defendants discriminated against Plaintiffs because of their race by using subterfuge and pretext to get Plaintiffs to pay cash penalties and/or provide additional security for existing debts when the bank simultaneously planned to terminate its banking relationship with Plaintiffs, all without taking the same steps with substantially similarly situated white business borrowers," he wrote.
He said Mercantile was willing to work with white loan holders who were struggling.
The plaintiffs in the lawsuits say Mercantile initially sought to increase minority lending and had a worker target black business owners in the Grand Rapids area.
They are represented by Talcott Franklin PC.
"What makes Mercantile's discriminatory 'concerted effort' all the more egregious is that, in many cases, Mercantile pushed these loans on many of the minority businesses to begin with, causing them to rely on the financing. Then, the bank aggressively yanked the loans back — leaving the borrowers and their businesses in far worse shape than if they had never created a relationship with Mercantile at all," Witte wrote.
The strategy to increase loans in the minority community began in 2000 with billboards, target advertising and face-to-face contact by a bank officer, attorney Jordan Hoyer said.
Later, the bank sought to rid itself of loans to blacks, the lawsuits said.
Hoyer said that "Mercantile aggressively called the loans on most, if not all, of the minority owned businesses it had recently targeted."
The bank "purged virtually all of its black business clients," she said.
Other plaintiffs are Jeremiah "Jerry" White Jr., owner of Reflections LLC, a beauty salon; Leo Burns and Burns Contracting, Inc.; Todd Cross and Iron Cross LLC and Renew Property Services LLC; Tyrone and Paula Guy and Brownstone Properties, LLC, Rehabilitation Restoration, Relaxation Station LLC; Samuel Mickens and Mickens Group; Mitchell and Jodie Robertson and Premium Properties Unlimited LLC and MI-JO's Inc.; Monica Robertson and Precious Creation, Inc.; Jesse Strickland and Shoes Plus Now Inc.