CHARLES TOWN – Nearly a year ago when Patrick Petersen first came to the Eastern Panhandle talking about relocating Broken Mobile, his mobile device repair business, from Northern Virginia and hiring a work force from the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Martinsburg, Jim Ruland said he quickly bought into the vision.
“The idea of keeping jobs here rather than having the work shipped overseas and then helping out veterans too – there was a certain nobility to that,” said Ruland, managing partner of RAI Properties LLC of Ranson, the business that rented Petersen the 6,000-square-foot suite at 150 E. Burr Blvd. in Kearneysville. “A lot of us responded positively.”
Now Ruland is eyeing an Aug. 20 court hearing to make permanent a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction ordered against Petersen and Broken Mobile last week in Jefferson County Circuit Court.
Judge David Sanders’ order prevents Petersen from removing any remaining inventory and furniture from the site that he leased from RAI Properties in April.
Ruland’s five-count lawsuit filed last week in Jefferson County Circuit Court alleges that Petersen failed to repay a $50,000 “bridge” loan he signed.
Besides defaulting on the bridge loan, missing rent and property tax payments, and writing a bad check to Ruland for a business dinner the 32-year-old Petersen was supposed to attend, a number of other issues began to come to light late last month, Ruland said.
“June 25 was a very bad day,” he said. “We found that he’d misrepresented himself and his company, misrepresented his financial condition, pledged collateral that he knew others already had judgments against and took items of value from the site that didn’t belong to him.”
When he began looking into Petersen’s personal background, he found the man had used 15 addresses in the past 14 years – most in Virginia – as well as a felony conviction for drugs in 2002.
According to Circuit Court records in Prince William County, Va., Petersen was convicted of possession with intent to dispense ecstasy and sentenced to five years in prison. Court records show he was released for time served.
That bit of background makes it unlikely that Broken Mobile ever could have secured work with the Department of Veterans Affairs, Ruland said.
“The idea that he was going to work with our local VA and then expand to other VAs all around the country … it’s really hard for a convicted felon to do business with the federal government,” he said. “When you file to become a government contractor, you have to certify that you’ve never been convicted of a felony.
“We had no clue. It puts the lie to his whole business premise.”
He ‘picked West Virginia’
Broken Mobile’s arrival in the Eastern Panhandle was greeted with much fanfare. Petersen himself described his company’s arrival here as the start of what could become “an East Coast Silicon Valley.”
That phrase appears in the news release put out in May by the Jefferson County Development Authority about the Manassas company’s relocation to Burr Plaza.
The release bore the headline, “Jefferson County, West Virginia, Selected Above Silicon Valley and North Carolina’s Golden Triangle for Headquarter Relocation of Broken Mobile, a Progressive Northern Virginia Mobile Device Solutions Company.”
“The company will bring jobs to the area, many through a distinctive U.S. military veterans training program, in a rapidly advancing telecommunications field,” the release stated.
John Reisenweber, executive director of the JCDA, said he’d worked with the West Virginia Development Office and Ruland “to showcase Jefferson County’s business-friendly climate, skilled work force and opportunities for growth.”
It said that Petersen “did his due diligence and after considering six states, including California, Broken Mobile chose the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia. The fact that Jefferson County is competing for IT companies with Silicon Valley and the Golden Triangle of North Carolina says a lot about what we have to offer here.”
In the release, Petersen outlined his business this way: “Until Broken Mobile, no options were available for corporate organizations, government agencies/contractors or educational institutions to comprehensively protect their mobile device assets.
“Broken Mobile provides customizable, efficient and cost effective mobile device solutions. We do this by performing all services within the United States and with certified technicians.”
Now, Petersen said in the release, companies send “thousands of employee cellular phones with proprietary company data” for repairs overseas to China and other countries.
Broken Mobile, the release went on, “has created its own technician certification program, required for all new hires, and open to potential employees. Additionally, Broken Mobile has pioneered a unique program to train U.S. military veterans in mobile device repair which prepares them for careers in the field. Once veterans complete the certification program, they will be eligible for employment with Broken Mobile.
“In collaboration with government entities, numerous independent veteran organizations and universities, Broken Mobile will provide this program on site at the new Broken Mobile office and campus in Burr Plaza.”
In the release, Petersen outlined his motivations to help veterans as borne from his family ties.
“My father is a Marine and Vietnam veteran so this effort is both personal for me and a privilege to provide a service for a group of men and women who have given so much of themselves for the sake of others,” he said. “Our veterans need careers that enable them to provide for themselves and their families. Broken Mobile is proud to reach out to them to give them technical training and a pathway to careers.”
Also in the release, Petersen outlined plans to provide his work force with a benefits package that included extras such as free meals during the workday, childcare and other goods and services.
“Other businesses in the plaza got excited about Broken Mobile being here,” Ruland said. “He promised Google-style benefits for his workers, with him coming to King’s (Pizza) for the employees’ free lunches, giving free day care, free haircuts, all kinds of things.”
The relationship between Broken Mobile and Ruland also began with promise.
A retired Navy officer with 22 years of active duty service including tours in combat, Ruland said he sought to help Petersen make connections in Jefferson County.
“I introduced him to everyone I knew,” he said. “I introduced him to my banker, I took him to the chamber of commerce, I got behind him, just as so many of us did.”
Petersen also has failed to pay a number of his workers and appears to have taken possession of computers and equipment that veterans and others brought in to use at work.
“I am jumping out of my own skin over the false hope he created in our veteran population and the financial harm he has done to so many of us,” Ruland said.
Ruland said that Petersen told some workers that they needed to complete an “unpaid internship” of several weeks before he could formally hire them.
In May, the JCDA helped to publicize a two-day job fair where Broken Mobile sought workers to handle “technical repair services, marketing, human resources, sales, finance, inventory and quality control, accounts receivable and general office.”
Matt Harvey of Martinsburg’s Taylor & Harvey law firm is representing RAI Properties in its suit.
“We are also working collaboratively with other agencies, organizations and individuals that have either received complaints about Mr. Petersen from former employees or have been cheated as customers,” Ruland said. “We are also partnering with his two prior landlords in Manassas who have also been victimized by this serial con artist in this same manner as he has attempted here.”