A subsidiary of one of Florida’s largest crane companies has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection following lawsuits from creditors, suppliers and competitors accusing the firm of theft and other wrongdoing.
The firm, Gulfstream Crane LLC, filed on Dec. 8 in U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Southern District of Florida, Ft. Lauderdale, claiming over $100 million in liabilities against $79 million in assets. Its parent company, Pompano Beach, Fla.-based General Crane USA—which owns six subsidiaries in total—aggressively expanded during the last few years, spending $35 million for 60 Linden Comansa tower cranes in 2006 and $30 million for 16 Liebherr Nenzing crawler cranes the following year. The crane-and-hoist company enjoyed a flurry of development during the real-estate boom, prompting an expansion into Atlanta in 2007.
But last year’s economic collapse and credit freeze caused cash-flow problems for General Crane and its business units, beginning with subsidiary Republic Tower & Hoist LLC. It was sued in December of last year in a Nevada state court in Las Vegas by hoist manufacturer Alimak Hek for $2.6 million in delinquent payments. In 2008, Grand Prairie, Texas-based competitor Lewis Crane & Hoist LLC sued General Crane in a Harris County, Texas, court for stealing confidential trade secrets. Lewis has since filed for Chapter 11.
General Crane’s problems have been compounded by five creditors filing suit for a combined $50.26 million in unpaid bills. Since June, the 37-year-old company has faced claims from Banc of America Leasing & Capital LLC ($8 million), Wells Fargo Equipment Finance Inc. ($11.9 million), SL Financial Services Corp. ($25.4 million), Center Capital Corp. ($1.9 million), and Linden Comansa America LLC ($2.8 million).
Last month, tower-crane manufacturer Linden Comansa repossessed $850,000 in parts from General Crane’s Houston, Texas, yard accompanied by a court order and Harris County constables. It accused General Crane of removing parts from Linden Comansa’s cranes and placing them on its own fleet. General Crane countered with its own lawsuit claiming it was authorized to do so. On Dec. 7, Florida law firm Berger Singerman withdrew as General Crane’s company counsel, fearing it wouldn’t get paid for its services. One day later, Gulfstream filed for bankruptcy.
The International Union of Operat- ing Engineers added to company woes by launching www.cranewatchdog.com, which broadcasts General Crane’s finances and legal troubles on the Web. “A number of non-union companies are seriously undercutting area standards, including General Crane,” says IUOE Special Projects Director Jeff Fiedler. “There is no hyperbole. It’s all straightforward, documented information.”
James A. Robertson, General Crane’s managing partner, declined to respond to ENR’s questions by phone. Instead, he sent an e-mail, saying, “General Crane USA will not comment on or address any allegations made against us in the media other than to say that General Crane USA emphatically denies the allegations made by Linden Comansa America.” The company, he adds, is “in the process of implementing a comprehensive restructuring plan” where executives “will reduce the amount of equipment not necessary for operations and seek to negotiate with lenders in an effort to modify debt service requirements.”
General Crane is now thinning out its fleet in order to trim expenses and generate revenue. It has four trailers, six personnel hoists, 10 tower cranes, six crawler cranes and 14 truck cranes listed for sale on its Website. “We look at this environment as an opportunity to streamline the operation and position ourselves to even better serve our customers for years to come,” says Robertson’s e-mail.