By Penni Crabtree
UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER
October 28, 2006
Simon Brodie, the founder of a San Diego company that is attempting to sell cat franchises, pleaded guilty to multiple counts of false accounting in a failed franchise venture in his native Britain.
Brodie, founder of Allerca, a “designer pet” company that claims to have created a hypoallergenic cat, was sentenced to 2.5 years in jail for his role in the 1992 demise of Cloudhoppers, a hot air balloon-flight business in East Sussex.
According to British press accounts of the time, Brodie’s company planned to sell dozens of franchises at 200,000 pounds each to flight operators across Britain. Instead, Brodie bilked consumers and ran up hundreds of thousands of pounds in debts, according to British press accounts.
Brodie said Thursday that he is not obligated to disclose his criminal record to potential Allerca franchisees or Allerca pet buyers.
He said British press accounts about Cloudhoppers and his conviction “contain a number of inaccuracies,” but he acknowledged that he served “a sentence of under one year through a work-release program.”
Allerca, in a written statement Thursday, said the company is “fully aware of Mr. Brodie’s personal history but that does not change the fact that Mr. Brodie has been instrumental in helping to create a product, a life, to help millions of allergy sufferers who always wanted to own a cat.”
Both Allerca and Brodie said Brodie no longer has an ownership interest in Allerca; he continues to serve the company as a consultant.
Brodie and Allerca are promoting what some business experts and cat breeders view as a problematic business opportunity – a franchise in cats that costs $45,000 per “territory.”
Neither Allerca nor Brodie would disclose who owns Allerca or where the company is located, and they would not provide the names of scientists or breeding facilities involved in creation of Allerca’s cats. According to a recently filed U.S trademark application, Brodie and Allerca reside at The Grande condo complex in downtown San Diego.
In recent weeks, Allerca and Brodie have been promoting franchises to sell the company’s allergen-free cats and what it claims is a newly created breed called the Ashera. Neither cat is commercially available.
Allerca is charging consumers a minimum of $3,950 to “pre-purchase” a cat that the company claims to have selectively bred to not produce allergy-causing proteins. Those cats can take up to two years to deliver, according to Allerca.
Allerca says it plans to charge $6,000 for its Ashera, described as a new breed of exotic that weighs up to 25 pounds and sports leopardlike markings.
Cat breeders say descriptions of the Ashera bear a striking resemblance to an already recognized breed, dubbed the Savannah, which is a cross between a domestic cat and a wild African serval.
Brodie acknowledged to The San Diego Union-Tribune that he ordered several Savannah female breeders from a traditional cat breeder in August, though the deal did not go through. At the time, Brodie identified himself to the breeder as Campbell Francis and his firm as Monsenco Capital.
Brodie said Allerca’s cat breeding experts asked him to acquire the Savannahs for the purpose of devising “the right formula” for the Ashera.
Brodie has a history of backing unusual business concepts, including promoting companies that proposed to create the world’s most powerful computerprocessor, as well as a national Wi-Fi network.
Little is known about the fate of those or other Brodie companies,although some of his ventures have left behind unpaid employees, debts, liens and court judgments.
In January, Brodie and Allerca were sued in Orange County for defaulting on a $25,000 loan. In February, Allerca was evicted from its previous downtown headquarters, which was also Brodie’s residence, for failure to pay rent. Last year, Brodie’s Los Angeles landlords won a $3,900 judgment against Brodie for failure to pay rent.
Brodie and two other Brodie-affiliated companies, Cerentis and IntegraAssociates, also defaulted on a $72,280 promissory note, according to Los Angeles County court records. Last year, Brodie tried to raise $500,000 to fund an Allerca subsidiary, animal diagnostics firm GeneSentinel, of which he was chairman, president and chief executive. At the time, GeneSentinel listed assets of $3,000 and debts of $200,000.
This year, Brodie laid off some of the GeneSentinel employees; three former employees allege GeneSentinel owes them thousands of dollars in unpaid wages. Brodie acknowledges wages are owed to an unspecified number of former employees. GeneSentinel has since changed its name to Cyntegra.
Penni Crabtree: (619) 293-1237; firstname.lastname@example.org