Eno River Farm

Eno River Farm in Hillsborough.

 

Jude Samulski liked his nephew’s business plan for a pick-your-own farm so much that he provided much of the startup funds and the land to get the venture rolling. Keegan Czesak’s plan also involved providing produce for local vendors, and the construction and operation of the market store at Eno River Farm, which opened in March 2020, also with money provided by his uncle. The 250-acre farm had customers — including Weaver Street Market; the farmers market had vendors — including an ice cream shop. The fields were ripe for berries, and the business appeared ripe for growth.

But now uncle and nephew appear headed for court, only not as partners, but as adversaries.

A lawsuit was filed Sept. 21, in the North Carolina Business Court, in which Samulski alleged his nephew, Czesak had funneled funds meant for the farm to his personal accounts; purposely tried to damage the business’ reputation, created confusion about the name and operation of the farm, and had vendor payments made directly to his personal bank accounts instead of those for Eno River Farms. Czesak’s girlfriend, Amber Worrell, is also mentioned in the lawsuit.

According to the lawsuit Eno River Farm LLC and Scuppernong Estate LLC vs. Keegan Czesak and Amber Worrell, Samulski hired the accounting firm Blackman & Sloop to examine the financial records of Eno River Farm. The investigation turned up accounting irregularities in the business’ financial records. This included, the lawsuit states, $692,554 that was transferred out of Eno River Farm’s checking account through electronic transfers to other accounts, and through checks made directly payable to Czesak.

Also discovered in Blackman & Sloop’s investigation, according to the suit, was the purchase of a Chevy 3500 Express van. The vehicle was bought in March 2021, from Hendrick Chevrolet using funds from Eno River Farm. The title to the van was issued in Czesak’s name.

In his affidavit and a filed response, Czesak denied the allegations set forth in the lawsuit.

A key issue in the dispute is exactly what Czesak’s role was with Eno River Farm. Czesak claimed to be a partner in the business, while Samulski said Czesak was a W-2 employee. The lawsuit states that, despite the farm being his idea, Czesak was never a partner, and that he was hired by Samulski in 2019 to run the farm for a salary of $60,000, including use of a furnished home adjacent to the farm.

Samulski said he fired Czesak in July 2021. The lawsuit alleges that, upon vacating the house that was part of his employment deal, Czesak and Worrell took some of the furniture from the house without permission. Worrell had also been living in the house with Czesak.

According to the lawsuit, Samulski initially funded the farm by transferring $100,000 to Czesak. In 2019, after the Eno River Farm account was set up, Samulski transferred an additional $500,000. He claims to have, over the ensuing months, transferred more than $8 million into the business account, investing almost $9 million altogether, according to the lawsuit.

In his affidavit and filing, Czesak repeatedly refers to his involvement with Samulski and Eno River Farms as a “partnership.” Czesak said the plan was for Samulski to initially invest $250,000. Czesak said, in his affidavit, that when he and Samulski realized more funds would be needed to start the farm, Samulski invested another $500,000, with the stipulation that Czesak would be responsible for repayment of $250,000.

Throughout the lawsuit, Samulski alleges Czesak and his girlfriend, Amber Worrell, had set up unauthorized accounts to receive payments to checking accounts separate from the farm account. The suit continues that the accounting firm hired to examine Eno River Farm's finances spoke with two of the farm’s customers that allegedly had been told to pay Czesak directly, and not the farm. 

Two other major issues asserted in the lawsuit is control of the social media profile of Eno River Farm, and whether Czesak has used those accounts and other means to “sabotage” the business. Allegations that Czesak offered the farm’s produce to a client as a “donation,” reached out to vendors with “false information,” including spreading false statements that the farm was closed for business. The suit also claims Czesak was using the Eno River Farm’s social media pages to rebrand the company as Local Roots Farm. This, the suit states, created confusion among customers and vendors about whether Eno River Farm was still in operation.

Filings with the North Carolina Secretary of State’s Office Show Czesak registered a new business on Sept. 10, called Local Roots Farm LLC. Worrell is listed in the filing as a company official.

Czesak responded in his filing that since in the Eno River Farm’s lawsuit does not allege that a partnership ever existed between Czesak and Samulski, then the farm never had ownership of the Facebook page and the Instagram account “because the social media accounts were created by Keegan using his own personal electronic devices more than one year before he became a W-2 employee of the farm.”

Czesak is being represented by James Rainsford and Jason Murphy of Coleman, Gledhill, Hargrave, Merritt & Rainsford. His attorneys did not comment outside of court filings. 

Worrell is being represented by Garrett L. Davis of Maginnis Howard PLLC. Eno River Farm and its co-plaintiff, Scuppernong Estates, are being represented by Michael Mitchell and Grace Gregson of Smith Anderson Blount, Dorsett, Mitchell & Jernigan.  

Eno River Farm’s attorneys have already filed for an injunction to prohibit the defendants from accessing its social media pages, domain names and utility accounts. The filing includes a demand for Czesak to return control of all accounts related to the farm.

Czesak’s attorney’s filed their opposition to the injunction request. 

Other allegations made in the lawsuit include:

• That Keegan Czesak and his girlfriend, Amber Worrell, used Eno River Farm funds to pay a contractor more than $184,000 for personal work that did not benefit the farm, including a new walk-in closet for Worrell;

• That Czesak used the farm’s bank account to pay for his personal expenses, including charges at Pottery Barn, dog grooming services, sports tickets, and vacations.

Czesak, through affidavits and his filed response, denied all allegations.