PREVIOUS COVERAGE | School’s latest money woes could end family’s reign

dmarsteller@bradenton.comJanuary 1, 2010 

BRADENTON — Bradenton Preparatory Academy has been in financial trouble before, but its latest woes have resulted in a shake-up in the private school’s corporate administration and diminished the founding family’s control.

Just like it is now, the school — then called Bradenton Academy — faced lender attempts to foreclose on its west Bradenton campus in 2004, court records show. The school’s owner, The Children’s Place Inc., avoided foreclosure by refinancing.

But the school again is facing financial troubles, including two recent foreclosure suits and $921,000 in federal tax liens. School officials have said they plan to settle those debts through a British investor, who already has replaced the school’s surviving co-founder as the company’s president, public records show.

The investor, Hendrik Lamprecht, also recently created a corporation and a limited-liability company with the school’s name, records show. Neither lists any members of the school’s founding family as officers or partners.

The school at 7900 40th Ave. W. has been run by the Gerber family since 1975, when Murray and Lois Gerber launched it with a handful of students. Murray Gerber died in 2006, but Lois Gerber remains active with Bradenton Prep.

The couple’s daughters, Susan Hedgcock and Diane Small, also are involved with the school. Hedgcock is its executive director, and Small is a teacher.

But recent financial tumult has resulted in the family losing some control over the school.

The Internal Revenue Service has filed three tax liens against Children’s Place since February, contending it owes more than $921,000 in federal unemployment and payroll taxes dating back to 2007. And two lenders are seeking to foreclose on the school, saying Children’s Place has defaulted on more than $5.7 million in loans.

The school faced a similar foreclosure attempt in 2004, when SunTrust Bank contended the school defaulted on a $3.28 million mortgage and a $250,000 revolving line of credit, court records show. School officials avoided foreclosure by refinancing through GTE Federal Credit Union, which now is seeking to foreclose on that $4.1 million loan for non-payment.

A second lender also is suing to foreclose on the school. Freedom Holdings Manatee LLC, created to hold assets of the failed Freedom Bank, contends Children’s Place defaulted on a $1.62 million commercial loan by missing payments required under a forbearance agreement.

That led school officials to connect with Lamprecht, who has said he is buying “a major stake” in Children’s Place and has plans to expand the school campus. The deal isn’t expected to close until later this month, but it already has led to changes in Children’s Place’s slate of officers, records show.

In an annual report filed with the Florida Secretary of State’s Division of Corporations on Sept. 22, Children’s Place listed Lois Gerber as its president, Hedgcock as its vice president and Small as its secretary/treasurer.

But just three weeks later, on Oct. 15, the company filed an amended report that listed Lamprecht as the new president and treasurer, said Gerber now was its secretary and made no mention of Hedgcock and Small. The amendment said the company’s new vice president was Joseph Hammond, the school’s football coach and director of football operations.

Lamprecht confirmed he is now president of Children’s Place, but said the amended report incorrectly listed him as treasurer. He said Lois Gerber actually holds that post.

He also responded to e-mails and telephone messages that the Bradenton Herald had left for school officials, saying he now is speaking on their behalf. Lamprecht also said all questions regarding the pending deal should be directed to him through a school e-mail account, but would reply only when the time was right.

“I’m not at liberty to discuss this until after we have completed the transaction,” he said by telephone Thursday.

Records also show Hammond and Lamprecht also recently incorporated two entities using the school’s name: Bradenton Preparatory Academy Corp. and Bradenton Preparatory Academy LLC. The incorporation papers list Lamprecht as president and Hammond as vice president of the corporation, and Lamprecht as managing member and Hammond as manager of the limited-liability company.

No other officers or members were listed.

Lamprecht said the new entities “are for student housing” but declined to elaborate.

Those are not the only business relationships that he and Hammond have. They also are affiliated with Monolex Group Ltd., a British company.

The company’s Web site lists Hammond as its “outsource and qualification director,” and Lamprecht as its primary administrative contact. In several postings on various trading Web sites, Lamprecht was identified as Monolex’s chairman and chief executive.

“Monolex is a trading house with specific interests in the energy and steel industries,” including buying crude oil for a group of refineries, according to the company’s Web site. Monolex also is a distributor of various beverages, including Spanish wine and adult energy drinks, according to the site.

Lamprecht declined to discuss his business interests, but said “Monolex has nothing to do with The Children’s Place.”

But a Google search for “monolex” gave a Bradenton Prep Web site as the first return.

Duane Marsteller, transportation/growth and development reporter, can be reached at 745-7080, ext. 2630.

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