One of Dallas’ most famous boats is on the auction block: Named the Whitmar, it’s a sailboat owned by Dallas contractor James Allen “Jim” Benge, and it’s up for auction as part of of a bankruptcy settlement, with bidding beginning July 28.
Benge is a contractor who was sued by at least two dozen subcontractors he hired, then failed to pay after doing the job.
The boat has been Benge’s passion project, as well as the subject of two flattering profiles by D magazine. He built it himself, with no expense spared – perhaps easy expense for him, after stiffening so many electricians, flooring companies, drywall installers, steel fabricators, cement pourers and HVAC companies.
While most of the lawsuits against him have come from small operators unable to afford a legal chore, there was one lawsuit brought by Hertz Electric and its tenacious attorney, Nathanial Martinez, of Palter Sims Martinez PLLC, which won a judgment. against Benge and his then-company Benge General Contracting LLC in 2019.
This case was the subject of endless rounds of appeals and delaying tactics by Benge, but Hertz Electric and Martinez ultimately prevailed.
Benge filed for bankruptcy and a trustee was appointed to oversee the auction of the boat, one of Benge’s only assets.
The auction was originally scheduled to take place in April, but Benge’s lawyer filed an objection with the absurd claim that the auction should not include the boat’s keel or masts, as they were never attached to the boat and were therefore exempt. The court rejected this and finally, the responsibility now stops here.
“It has been a six-year saga, with many maneuvers by Benge and his attorneys to avoid the boat rolling and, in our view, to block collection efforts against his businesses,” Martinez said.
The auction listing on Rosen Systems, Inc. describes it as a 42-foot sailboat that is “70% complete”, although boat connoisseurs put it at over 90%. “We usually hold industrial auctions, so this is definitely one of the more unusual items we’ve had,” says company president Michael Rosen.
The interior finish is “almost complete”, including a kitchen, a bathroom and two bedrooms. Everything has been made from the finest materials: intricate inlaid wood, mirror finished stainless steel, hot and cold running water and a gimbal mount for the stove to keep it level if the boat hits a wave.
The mechanical equipment includes a Westerbeke 4-cylinder marine engine, V-Drive transmission and two masts.
The auction opens July 28 and ends August 4. Before it closes, there is a visit on August 2 to the East Dallas warehouse near Buckner Road at 3324 Dilildo Rd. Suite J, where it is stored. Viewing hours are 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Finding an actual buyer for a gargantuan, highly personal ship like this seems unlikely; but the parties involved intend to press as hard as possible in order to obtain money and justice for Benge’s creditors.
One of the ways Benge has dodged his pursuers over the years is by moving from one hastily formed LLC to another. It operates under a dozen different names – Milam Designs, Gunslinger, Benge Arcadia, BCG Surfaces, Rivermark, Lamar Design Inc., Benge General Contracting, BCG Plumbing which is still active, and Benge Texas are just a few – but in April, he told the court that he no longer plans to do business after July 1, 2022 and promised that he would retire from the construction industry altogether.
However, in February 2022, a new company called Mule Skinner Construction was created. The main nominees are Grant Mitchell, former project manager for Benge Texas; and Pamela Hackley, former business development manager for Benge Texas.
Mule Skinner uses the same email address previously used by Benge Texas. Mule Skinner’s phone number – 214-574-6848 – is the phone number used by Benge Texas.
Under his Projects tab, Mule Skinner lists two Tim Love projects: Caterina’s, his brand new Italian restaurant, and Tannahill’s Tavern, his new music venue.
A search on the Fort Worth Permissions website brings up a request to do foundation and structural work for Tannahill Tavern. Applicant: “Jim Benge, MULESKINNER CONSTRUCTION.”
Timeline of legal action between Benge and Hertz Electric:
- March 29, 2016: Benge General Contracting, LLC (“Benge GC”) is filing a preemptive lawsuit against Hertz Electric, LLC and HTJ Global Electric, LLC (collectively, “Hertz”) after Hertz demanded payment for work it performed for Benge as a subcontractor.
- May 20, 2016: Hertz Files Response and Counterclaim to Benge GC for Breach of Contract and Default of Payment.
- October 25, 2017: Court allows Hertz to add James Benge individually as a counter-defendant to Hertz’s counterclaims on the theory that James Benge is Benge GC’s alter-ego and is using Benge GC to perpetuate fraud against Hertz.
- August 26, 2019: The trial finally begins. Lasts 5 days. The jury returns a verdict in favor of Hertz and awards attorneys’ fees. The judge rejects all of Benge’s claims for lack of evidence.
- October 17, 2019: Final Judgment entered against Benge GC and Jim Benge.
- November 11, 2019: Benge attempts to request a new trial, the Court rejects the request.
- December 2, 2019: Benge GC and Benge are appealing the entire judgment and award.
- February 3, 2020: Benge GC and Benge do not post a bond to suspend collection efforts (known as a replacement bond), so Hertz files a petition to release the boat. The boat turnover motion is due to be heard on 2/25/20.
- February 24, 2020 (1 day before the hearing for the change of boat): Benge GC and James Benge both file for bankruptcy. Benge GC files Chapter 7 proceedings and James Benge files Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The effect of the filings means collection efforts in the trial court are on hold (suspended) and Hertz cannot go forward for the court to hand over the boat.
- August 10, 2020: The bankruptcy court closes the bankruptcy case of Benge GC.
Prior to December 2020, Hertz discovers through depositions and documents produced in the bankruptcy filing that the assets of Benge GC (including all goodwill) were transferred to a new company, BengeTexas, Inc.
BengeTexas, Inc. used the same operating assets as its predecessor Benge GC, same address, same location, and sent construction bids from Benge GC email addresses. Benge even opened a bank account in the name of BengeTexas, Inc. “dba Benge General Contracting” so that he could deposit checks payable to Benge GC into BengeTexas, Inc.’s bank account.
Hertz believes this is a fraudulent transfer by Benge GC and Jim Benge to avoid paying creditors.
- December 7, 2020: Hertz files new lawsuit against BengeTexas, Inc. claiming that BengeTexas, Inc. conspired with Benge GC and Jim Benge and received assets from Benge GC and Jime Benge by fraud. The lawsuit is filed in Dallas County District Court and is assigned to the same judge as the original lawsuit (DC-20-179820).
- June 4, 2021: Bankruptcy court dismisses Jim Benge’s individual bankruptcy case. Benge agrees with that.
- June 14, 2021: Hertz is seeking to reopen the original lawsuit to resume collection efforts, but the court is not setting a hearing.
- September 8, 2021: The Court of Appeal confirms the initial judgment of the court of first instance, but cancels the award of attorney’s fees. The remaining judgment, including the fraud against Jim Benge remains.
- February 1, 2022: Hertz is now finally able to resume collection efforts and Hertz is filing a notice of postponement of the ship’s turnover hearing to February 25, 2022.
- February 2, 2022: Unrelated to the Hertz case, a bank that provided BengeTexas, Inc. with financing and a line of credit wins summary judgment against Jim Benge and BengeTexas, Inc. for nearly $1 million. The case is Origin Bank v. BengeTexas, Inc. The same company later seeks to put BengeTexas, Inc. into receivership.
- February 24, 2022: (1 day before NEW boat turnover hearing – and two years to date) Jim Benge files another bankruptcy petition, this time seeking Chapter 7 bankruptcy. This has the same effect as all bankruptcy filings – this pauses/suspends collection efforts.
- June 15, 2022: Origin Bank succeeds in getting the Court to place BengeTexas, Inc. in receivership. Origin Bank is seeking Benge to divest the company and its assets.
- June 22, 2022: BengeTexas, Inc. files for bankruptcy, staying Hertz’s second transfer fraud lawsuit against it and Origin Bank’s proceedings.
- July 2022: The Court finally approves the trustee’s request to sell the boat to satisfy the creditors.