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Thursday, December 7, 2023
Courthouse News Service
Thursday, December 7, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Played Like My Instrument, Violinist Says

(CN) - The founder of Vault.com made a tidy profit on the sale of a 17th-century violin but failed to compensate the musician who increased its value with years of performances, she claims in court.

Eugenia Choi filed the complaint on Dec. 31 in Manhattan Supreme Court against Cremona Advisors and that LLC's president, Samer Hamadeh.

The Juilliard-trained Choi accuses Cremona of pulling off a "classic bait and switch," engineered by Hamadeh, who founded the industry-ranking website Vault.com.

Hamadeh's scheme began with having Choi enter a written agreement in February 2008 to "locate and improve the pedigree of a violin with the promise that [she] would be well compensated by defendants [Cremona and Hamadeh] for her efforts," the lawsuit states.

Choi says she upheld her end of the bargain, locating a 17th-century violin and introducing Hamadeh to the dealer.

After Hamadeh bought the violin for $353,400 that March, Choi began leasing the instrument, insuring it, and using it in various performances, the complaint states.

Choi says it was supposed to be a five-year lease and that she had plans to make recordings with the violin.

In the final year of the lease, however, Hamadeh allegedly took the violin back to consign it for resale. Choi says she had paid $28,878 in rent by that point, plus $1,320 a year in insurance premiums.

Some months after Choi surrendered the violin to Hamadeh in 2012, Hamadeh settled a tax deficiency with New York state for $670,000, according to the complaint.

Choi says Hamadeh sold the violin two days later for $500,000.

Claiming that she expected to receive 7 percent of the profits, Choi notes that Hamadeh had her defer the 7 percent commission she should have received for finding the violin in 2008 "so that the dealer would ... lower the purchase price of the violin for Hamadeh accordingly."

Choi says she is also entitled to another 4.5 percent for the months that Hamadeh held onto the violin between her surrender of it and the instrument's resale.

That 11.5 percent is worth $57,500, but Choi says Hamadeh offered her just $25,000.

"The money that Ms. Choi is seeking represents, in part, her sweat equity, having played the violin that Mr. Hamadeh purchased in concerts and recordings in order to increase its resale value," Steve Rappoport, an attorney for the violinist with Morrison & Foerster, said in an email.

Choi has been playing the violin in concert since the age of 10. She has been described by the international press as "a technical virtuoso" and "a sensational force."

Alleging breach of contract, conversion, and fraudulent inducement, the Manhattanite is represented by Jamie Levitt with Morrison and Foerster.

Hamadeh is an entrepreneur-in resident with Lightspeed Venture Partners, the co-author of "The Vault Guide to Schmoozing," and CEO of Zeel.com, an in-home massage-booking website. He has not returned a request for comment.

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