Ex-stars at Duke foul out in court

Federal judge orders Laettner, Davis to pay NFL player $3.8 million in latest legal judgment against their business venture.

Staff WriterJanuary 7, 2011 

Legal woes of former Duke University basketball stars Christian Laettner and Brian Davis continue to mount.

Last month, a federal judge in Maryland ordered the business partners to pay NFL linebacker Shawne Merriman nearly $3.8 million and give him ownership stakes in their projects in downtown Durham, Baltimore and Atlanta.

This came after a federal judge in North Carolina ruled in September that Laettner and Davis owe oil giant Chevron $2.2 million. A California investor is also asking a federal court to enforce a 2009 state court judgment against Laettner and Davis for $1.1 million.

Laettner and Davis did not return calls seeking comment on Thursday.

Investors have been visiting downtown Durham to inquire about their properties, a sign that they are likely open to selling.

"I would make the assumption that for the right price they're buyable," said Bill Kalkof, president of Downtown Durham Inc.

Laettner and Davis' company, Blue Devil Ventures, led a $170 million revitalization effort in Durham that converted an abandoned tobacco factory into a mix of restaurants, offices and apartments called West Village.

Buoyed by the success of West Village and a generous lending environment, the duo looked to restore crumbling buildings in other blighted inner cities and invest in professional sports teams.

They bought a site in Baltimore and were involved in a failed attempt to purchase the Memphis Grizzlies professional basketball team.

At least five lawsuits have been filed against the two for failing to pay more than $7 million to friends and associates.

Merriman, who plays for the Buffalo Bills, has accused Laettner and Davis of failing to abide by terms of a $3 million loan and a settlement reached in federal court in 2009.

The latest judgment, filed Dec. 13, gives Merriman a 10 percent membership interest in the West Village Condos Partnership in Durham, a West Village project in Atlanta and the project in Baltimore.

Merriman also has the option to transfer his ownership stakes to other projects now or later undertaken by Laett ner and Davis. The West Village assets in Durham are likely to be among the more valuable that Laettner and Davis own.

Chevron's suit accused Blue Devil Ventures of not repaying $1.5 million it lent to redevelop the Chesterfield building in downtown Durham, the third and final phase of the West Village project.

In November 2009, Laett ner and Davis handed back that building to their lender, Select Capital Management of Rock Island, Ill., to avoid foreclosure.

The building, a former Liggett & Myers Tobacco Co. cigarette factory, is now being redeveloped by Josh Parker, a former employee of Blue Devil Ventures.

Parker, who is financing the project primarily with federal stimulus bonds, expects to begin work in April.

Staff writer Anne Blythe contributed to this report.

david.bracken@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4548

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