Art Van Furniture family sued, Detroit woman killed in case of mistaken identity, child hurt in Warren fire

The family that founded Art Van Furniture is accused of cheating another company out of millions of dollars, according to a lawsuit.

The lawsuit filed in Delaware's federal bankruptcy court alleges that the Van Eslander family sold four of the store's properties, leaving the buying company that took over with no assets.

FOX 2 legal analyst Charlie Langton said the case comes down to whether it was a legitimate transaction when the family sold the stores.

The sale involved $434 million and, according to the complaint part of the deal, to finance the sale to a Boston private equities firm involved leasing back the stores to Art Van, not realizing there was more value to the Art Van Furniture empire than the property.

"They leased the stores back, so when this new company bought them they took those stores with leases and when that new company couldn't figure out what to do, they went bankrupt," Langton said.

Art Van Eslander, who passed away in 2018, founded Art Van in 1959 – thriving family business that was debt free until it was sold, according to the family's statement, which you can read in full below. 

They claim the buyer promised the commitment to employees and creditors would continue, but instead, they claim, employees lost jobs and creditors didn't get paid - sullying the family name. That's why last year the family bought back just the name to keep it out of the wrong hands.

"I think the new company failed to take in consideration the value of the great marketing that the Art Van family had in Detroit, and really that made it a lot," Langton said. "When he was out of the picture this company couldn't exist."

The trustee is now going after the Van Eslander family and the late founder's estate to recover $105 million for the bankrupt company's creditors, but the Van Eslander family claims the problems were caused by the buyer of the business well after Art Van was sold.

Statement from Van Eslander family:

"Make no mistake, the bankruptcy proceedings may be labeled "Art Van," but this is about the consequences of business decisions made by the company that purchased our family business in 2017.

"When company founder Art Van Elslander - our father, grandfather and great-grandfather - sold Art Van Furniture as a thriving family business, the company was generating cash, debt-free. We were promised by the buyer that the decades of commitment to employees and communities would continue as strong as ever. Those promises were broken.

"Throughout its history, Art Van’s priorities included paying its suppliers and employees on-time, in full. It has been painful to hear the stories of employees losing their jobs and creditors not getting paid, sullying our family’s good name. That is why we bought the Art Van name last year – to keep it out of the hands of those who could inflict further damage to the reputation built over 58 years of business.

"Importantly, all the family owns now is the name. We have no ownership of what happened to the business after the sale on March 1, 2017.

"The U.S. Bankruptcy Trustee’s efforts to force our family into court to somehow play a role in solving problems caused by the buyer of our business, specifically in the years following the sale, is an unfair attempt to shift losses to us, that we will fight in court."

Detroit woman killed in case of mistaken identity

Detroit police say a 20-year-old woman's shooting death was a case of mistaken identity after she had traveled with her mom and 11-year-old sister to the grocery store for fruit Monday afternoon. While Ciera Wells was driving, someone started shooting at them just blocks from their home near Seven Mile. 

Two bullets went through her rear tail light and into the victim's back. "I was calling for Ciera, she wasn’t conscious, and I jumped out of the car and said ‘somebody help me, somebody help - my baby has been shot’," Yquitta Wells, her mother said "The police took Ciera they grabbed her and threw her and put her in the back of the car and took her to the emergency room."

She later died at the hospital. Detroit police say two people were arrested in connection with the shootings. 

This is the latest string of tragedy for the family. Just six months ago, Ciera's dad was hit and killed on a motorbike when someone failed to yield. That happened very close to where Ciera was killed.

Child hospitalized after Warren apartment fire

An 8-year-old was hospitalized and several families were displaced after a fire broke out at an apartment in Warren Wednesday morning. 

Crews battled a blaze that burst through the roof of the Warren Manor apartments around 5 a.m. that began in the first floor at the back of the complex. More than a dozen families were displaced as a result. Eight units suffered damage of some kind.

The injured child was taken to Children's hospital in stable condition. It's unclear if she was injured from smoke inhalation or burns. 

A fire previously broke out at the same complex on May 8, 2021. 

Rochester schools settles lawsuit for $190K with outspoken parent

A suburban Detroit school district agreed to pay nearly $190,000 to settle a lawsuit by a parent who said she lost her job after criticizing COVID-19 policies. The Rochester district released the agreement Tuesday after a public records request by The Associated Press. 

Controversies over masks, online learning, in-person instruction and other issues have hit schools across the U.S. during the pandemic. But the allegations in Rochester were extraordinary: Elena Dinverno accused the district of making calls that caused her to be fired from her marketing job.

Dinverno participated in Facebook groups that were in favor of reopening Rochester schools for in-person instruction in 2020. She said she frequently questioned the school board’s decisions. Rochester acknowledged that a deputy superintendent, Debra Fragomeni, called Dinverno’s employer, though attorneys denied any wrongdoing. Nonetheless, the district agreed to pay $116,209 to Dinverno and $72,540 to her attorney to settle the lawsuit, records show.

Dinverno said her free-speech rights were violated when the district retaliated by calling her employer. "They have zero business policing her speech," attorney Deborah Gordon said in 2021 when the lawsuit was filed. The agreement bars Gordon and the district from discussing the settlement.

— Courtesy of the Associated Press

Several cars damaged after uninsured driver goes airborne into Livonia parking lot

A driver plowed into a parking lot full of cars after suffering a medical emergency last week in Livonia. The driver veered into oncoming traffic, hit a beam, and went airborne into the parking lot of a small business on Plymouth Road near Ann Arbor Road on March 14, hitting numerous vehicles in the process.

At least three vehicles were totaled and five others were damaged in the lot. "Hit the top of two cars, blew out all the glass. The one car looked like it became a convertible," said April Duncan, whose co-workers' cars were hit. Madeline Gannon's 2020 Ford Escape was one of the vehicles wrecked.

"It was my first real nice car, and it's gone," she said. "I hope he’s doing well, and I hope he’s recovering, but it’s been devastating to all of us." Those whose vehicles were damaged aren't sure what to do because driver who lost control didn't have car insurance. "I was hoping to get was a rental car out of his insurance only to find out that he doesn’t have any," Gannon said.

Unfortunately, they have little recourse, according to attorney Steve Letho. "If your car gets hit while legally parked, you look to the other car’s insurance company. The problem is someone driving without insurance, doesn’t have insurance," he said. "If you don’t get your deductible paid or there’s other things that come from this that your insurance doesn’t cover, you could go after the driver of that car, but the question is how collectible are they?"

What else we're watching

  1. A Dearborn Heights man is accused of defrauding the government out of $1 million in pandemic relief that he planned to use to purchase a condo in Lebanon. Wahid Mohamed Makki, 59, tried funneling the money through shell corporations.
  2. Footage from Tuesday night showed a tornado landing in a suburb of New Orleans and leaving a trail of damage in its wake. At least one person died from the severe weather.
  3. Russian forces remain bogged down outside major cities in Ukraine, where they continue to face heavy resistance from the military and citizens. But as the Russian military losses mount, western intelligence assessments say human suffering is also deepening in Ukraine.
  4. Detroit's former mayor Kwame Kilpatrick is joining members of the Redemption Project to promote the Good Time Initiative petition. If approved by voters in November, the proposed legislation would give incarcerated people the opportunity to reduce their sentences through productive activity.
  5. There's a new version of the omicron variant that is appearing in most new infections around the U.S. It's already driven a wave of cases in Europe.

Live on FOX 2

Daily Forecast

It's going to be a wet weather day Wednesday as showers will fall off and on throughout the morning and afternoon. A chance for severe weather remains primarily in southern communities like Monroe and Lenawee County.

Inside Bob Saget's hotel room: Photos released of comedian's Orlando Ritz-Carlton suite

The Orange County Sheriff's Office in Florida on Tuesday released a batch of photos that were taken inside actor and comedian Bob Saget's hotel room in Orlando, where he died earlier this year.

The "Full House" / "Fuller House" actor was found dead inside his hotel room at the Ritz-Carlton Orlando on Jan. 9, 2022. He was in town performing a series of shows in the area. 

In total, more than 30 photos were released, mostly offering varying vantage points throughout the room – the living room, bedroom, bathroom, and closet, which still had clothing on the hangers.

Last week, the medical examiner released additional details about the potential cause of the comedian's death: a fracture was found at the base of Saget's skull with evidence of bleeding around the brain. The medical examiner suggested that Saget may have fallen and hit something hard, following by something soft, such as a carpeted floor.