Holiday/Pendergraft Edgartown tale echoes Houston past

A screen shot of the Holiday website shows a fundraising event in Houston unrelated to Holiday, according to nonprofit founder Tony Massua.

A screen shot of the Holiday website shows a fundraising event in Houston unrelated to Holiday, according to nonprofit founder Tony Massua.

Updated August 29, 2012 at 8:15 am.

This week, lawyers in Boston and Texas attempted to separate Holiday Public Relations & Events, a Houston based company, and Danielle Pendergraft of Edgartown. The Texas firm and the Edgartown resident are involved in a lawsuit filed by Holiday against SQuire Rushnell and Louise DuArt of Edgartown, founders of the nonprofit Network of Neighbors. Another suit, this one against the Edgartown Library Foundation, has been settled on terms that have not been disclosed.

In a series of emails to The Times, Texas attorney J. David Kuntz, representing Holiday and, in district court in Edgartown, Boston lawyer Kristen Schuler Scammon, counsel to Ms. Pendergraft, said Ms. Pendergraft is an employee of Holiday.

“She is not an officer, she is not a director, she is an employee,” Ms. Scammon said in Edgartown District Court on May 30, where she defended her client in a small claims case. Ms. Scammon said the company is owned by a trust.

However, court judgments, corporate documents filed in Texas, and conversations with former Houston business and community persons familiar with Holiday and Ms. Pendergraft, reveal little daylight between her and the Holiday corporate entity. Inquiries in Texas also reveal a pattern of behavior by Ms. Pendergraft in her business and personal dealings that resembles her dealings on Martha’s Vineyard, which have become the subject of lawsuits and at least one small claims action.

The picture that emerges is of a smart, capable woman who is adept at forging close business and personal relationships, including relationships with nonprofit organizations, and taking full advantage of those relationships.

Corporate route

On August 4, 2005, Ms. Pendergraft was listed on the articles of formation filed with the Texas secretary of state as the registered agent for Events Planned Perfectly.

On June 22, 2006, under the title of president, Ms. Pendergraft filed a certificate to assume the name, Premier Planning Services.

On February 8, 2008, Texas revoked the corporate charter for Events Planned Perfectly, for violations of the Texas tax code.

Holiday Public Relations incorporated in April, 2007, with the Pendergraft 2007 Irrevocable Childrens Trust as the managing member, or in a legal sense, the owner of the firm. William C. Bracken was listed as a trustee, and he was also listed as agent for the newly formed limited liability corporation.

In a 2008 public information report, Danielle Pendergraft is listed as the managing member, on a form signed by Scott Pendergraft, her husband, acting as vice-president of the corporation.

On February 10, 2012, Texas ordered the corporation’s charter forfeited, under a chapter of the state’s tax code that allows forfeiture if “the corporation does not have assets from which a judgment for any tax, penalty, or court costs imposed by this chapter may be satisfied.”

On April 24, 2012, Holiday applied for reinstatement, after state officials certified that the company had met all tax requirements.

On May 30, the corporation changed its address and listed David Kuntz, the Holiday attorney in the two lawsuits, as the company’s agent.

Company profile

The Holiday Public Relations & Events website promotes the firm as worldwide in scope, with the ability to handle a wide range of public relations work and events. Photographs on the site show lavish parties, a fireworks display, and an orchestra concert. The site lists only one person, Ms. Pendergraft, under the heading “Meet the Staff.”

On the web site and in email communications, Ms. Pendergraft touts the firm as one of the “largest meeting and events planners” in Houston, as ranked by the Houston Business Journal.

For the past two years, the Journal, a weekly publication, listed Holiday as the third largest event planning firm in Houston. According to researcher Diana McKinney, the ranking was based on a questionnaire Ms. Pendergraft completed and submitted.

“I survey each of the lists during the calendar year,” Ms. McKinney said. “I request various amounts of information. They are ranked by the total number of events planned the previous year. Danielle Pendergraft, she’s fairly communicative. They provide the majority of information I request. They list 16 full-time employees, two certified meeting planners. Their 2011 revenue for local events was $1.9 million, with a total 2011 revenue of $5.7 million. The average operating budget per event was $150,000. Last year, they did 253 events, corporate events, 141, conventions, 19, training and seminars, 22, social events 70, and other, 46.”

Ms. McKinney said the Houston Business Journal does not independently verify the information submitted by the event planning firms. “I pretty much take them at their word,” she said.

Tony Masraff’s word

Under the category of special events, the Holiday website prominently displays a photo of three distinguished men holding a large check dated September 29, 2007. The check is for $100,000, given by the nonprofit Tony’s Prostate Cancer Research organization to the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, for non-invasive prostate cancer research, in memory of Rafael Herrera.

Although the website provides no caption information, the implication is that Holiday was connected to the event.

Tony Masraff, founder of the nonprofit, is a prominent Houston businessman and restaurant owner. In response to an email from The Times, Mr. Masraff wrote, “Please be assured that Holiday had nothing to do with our donation. Ms. Pendergraft is not in any way involved with our foundation, and nor do we want her to represent us in any way. She is not authorized to represent us. The implication that she had anything to do with this check presentation is false.”

In a followup telephone conversation Tuesday, Mr. Masraff said, “Danielle did some work for us way back when I first started the foundation. And it ended up when she took the money for some vendors, because we were paying her, and never paid them. So we terminated our relationship. That was many, many years ago. Probably 2003, 2004. We don’t want to be associated with her.”

Mr. Masraff said the record Ms. Pendergraft left behind in Houston “speaks for itself.”

Empty judgment

In 2008, at about the time Ms. Pendergraft moved to Martha’s Vineyard, a Texas civil court ruled against her in a lawsuit filed by W. Temple Webber Jr., a Houston banker. The court awarded Mr. Webber a judgment of $110,000, but he said he has never been able to collect any of the money.

In a phone interview with The Times Wednesday, Mr. Webber and his assistant explained that he met Ms. Pendergraft through a friend who thought highly of her.

“I was actually a third party that came in to help her get out of a tight squeeze,” Mr. Webber said. “She claimed she was not getting her money fast enough, cash flow problems. It was a case where she took some money for one purpose, but she proceeded to use it for another purpose.”

In the lawsuit he filed against Events Planned Perfectly and Ms. Pendergraft, Mr. Webber alleged that he assumed 40 percent ownership in the planning firm, and loaned it $100,000.

The lawsuit alleges the money was loaned for business use, but Ms. Pendergraft soon transferred the money to her own accounts and used it to buy a house and furniture in Houston, and that she prevented Mr. Webber from examining corporate documents. His lawsuit alleges breach of contract, breach of fiduciary responsibility, and fraud.

“We disputed what she’d taken the money for and won the case,” Mr. Webber said. “She claimed bankruptcy, and we disputed that. We later learned she owed the IRS a large sum of money, and we knew they were going to going to come in before us.”

Mr. Webber explained that in a bankruptcy proceeding the federal government would be paid its tax debt before any other debtors, so he put his pursuit of the debt owed him by Ms. Pendergraft aside.

In March of 2009, Danielle and Scott Pendergraft filed for bankruptcy in Texas. Mr. Webber was among many creditors listed in the bankruptcy filing. The couple’s total liabilities were listed at $1,015,189. The bankruptcy documents also list the Pendergrafts’ assets at $643,152, including a home valued at $595,000.

The bankruptcy judge issued a plan under the Chapter 13 bankruptcy procedures. Under the plan, the Pendergrafts were to pay their creditors a total of $378,000 over a four-year period, beginning with monthly payments of $5,000.

Unwilling to sue

Mr. Rushnell and Ms. DuArt described their relationship with Ms. Pendergraft in an interview this week. Mr. Rushnell, a former ABC television executive, is the author of “When GOD Winks,” and a series of best-selling self-help or inspirational books.

Ms. DuArt is a comedian who spoofs a number of female celebrities. She has toured with comedian Tim Conway. Mr. Conway has visited the Vineyard several times, including this past weekend, to perform with Ms. DuArt in charity fundraising events.

The couple also produces short videos and organizes inspirational gatherings based on the GOD Winks books.

Mr. Rushnell said that Ms. Pendergraft contacted him after seeing one of the couple’s televised performances. She offered, Mr. Rushnell says, to volunteer the services of her public relations firm.

“Our research of her was admittedly limited,” Mr. Rushnell said. “We went online and looked at Holiday Public Relations. She said it was an $8 million company. We had no reason to doubt that. We met her pastor from a huge Episcopal church in Houston, spent a little time with him when he was visiting the Island. The whole picture of this woman was she was very bright, tremendously creative, and extraordinarily generous with her time.”

“She is smart, and she does have talent,” Ms. DuArt said. “It’s too bad she couldn’t use it in some positive way.”

The couple said they began to be cautious after Holiday Public Relations & Events sued the Edgartown Library Foundation, and they became alarmed after hearing that Ms. Pendergraft was involved in a dispute with the Edgartown School’s Parent Teacher Organization.

“Then the red flags started coming up,” Mr. Rushnell said.

Mr. Rushnell said he is reluctant to take legal action against Ms. Pendergraft or her public relations firm.

“That would probably cost $70,000 to $110,000, and what would be the end result,” Mr. Rushnell said. “She has no money. Having already spent $32,000 that she’s taken [from Network of Neighbors], and untold legal bills in Boston and Texas, I don’t think it’s fruitful to take civil action.”

Small victory

On May 30, Edgartown District Court clerk magistrate Liza Williamson issued a ruling in favor of Kathleen Forsythe, a website designer, who filed a claim for $7,000 against Danielle Pendergraft and Holiday Public Relations and Events.

In court, Ms. Pendergraft’s lawyer, Ms. Scammon, argued that Ms. Forsythe’s claim was against Holiday “treasurer” Lisa Reynolds, the name that appeared on correspondence to Forsythe Design.

“Based upon the credible evidence presented at trial, the Court finds that Lisa Reynolds and Danielle Pendergraft are one and the same,” Ms. Williamson wrote in her two-page judgment. “The Court also notes that Ms. Pendergraft refused to testify at trial, and documentation submitted by the defendant, as was noted by the court at trial, was unsigned and appeared to be unsealed.”

A letter to the congregation

On June 1, Danielle Pendergraft wrote an email to “friends, altar guild members, and Net families” of the St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Edgartown. In it, she wrote, “I can assure you we [she and her husband Scott Pendergraft]are not con artists who moved to the Island to scam nonprofit organizations, as we have been inaccurately depicted by the press and online commenters. It was a dream of mine to move to this Island.”

The complete and unedited text of Ms. Pendergaft’s email follows:

You have probably read some horrible things about me and my family this week. I can assure you we are not con artists who moved to the island to scam non-profit organizations, as we have been inaccurately depicted by the press and online commenters.

It was a dream of mine to move to this island. After many wonderful summers here, I pleaded with Scott for years to allow us to make the island our home. Scott and I have done nothing wrong and the local authorities yesterday confirmed there has been no criminal conduct as the spin in The Times article might have readers believe.

The tabloid journalism and defamation of character is being dealt with by our legal counsel. I have not sued anyone; my employer in Houston has. This hurtful smear campaign has been initiated by the local individuals (not a non-profit) who are being sued merely because they haven’t paid their bill according to the terms of a contract. I will not say anything negative about these individuals, as thankfully the truth will come out soon enough.

In the meantime, I hope that my fellow Altar Guild members, parishioner friends and Net families will understand that there are two sides to every story. The biased conclusions leapt to by the community – including people we have opened our home and lives to – make this all the more painful and do not reflect God’s love in Christ, as we understand that to be at St. Andrew’s. We feel very much part of a Salem witch trial.

As you can imagine, this situation is very difficult for my colleagues who depend upon the firm for their livelihood, as well as for my own family and children. For many, many years I have dedicated myself to my career, have been faithfully married, raising three beautiful children with values, teaching them the importance of serving in their community and church, as Scott and I have done both here and in Houston. It is very hard to explain to Jake, Marjorie and Madison that ugly disputes like this can occur when one makes themselves vulnerable in serving alongside others in the community or in business dealings – but usually those are good risks to take in order to lead a fulfilling life. I hope these things speak for my family and our character and not the vindictiveness of others through tabloid journalism.

With great sadness,

Danielle Pendergraft

Requests for comment

Separately in emails, the Times asked Mr. Kuntz and Ms. Scammon to help arrange an interview with the Pendergrafts, but Ms. Scammon replied, in a June 5 email, “My clients are not interested in an interview. They simply do not trust your paper and do not want their children to endure the additional frenzy that would result from another article. ”

See related story, “Lawyers defend Holiday and its employee Daniel Pendergraft.”

This article was updated to reflect a correction. Diana McKinney is a researcher for the Houston Business Journal, not an editor.