The cancellation of a high-end Passover program shortly before the holiday has left the sponsor, Joseph Allaham of The Prime Grill, and the hotel, the Hilton La Jolla Torrey Pines in San Diego, in a legal battle, and guests scrambling to make last-minute holiday plans, concerned about getting their hefty deposits back.
Many of the guests had already booked flights and paid between $4,950 and $10,000 per person for a full 10-day stay at the hotel.
Guests have not yet been reimbursed, according to Allaham’s lawyer, Mark J. Heller, who said hotel personnel decided to cancel the trip because they underestimated the trip’s expense and realized the project would not be profitable.
“Hilton management … decided to cut their losses and attempt to avoid refunding the deposits on some bogus basis,” wrote Heller in a statement to The Jewish Week on Thursday.
According to Heller, Allaham had paid the hotel a $900,000 deposit in advance. The hotel refused to let Allaham pay the deposit on a credit card, as he did with previous Passover programs, Heller said. Instead, Allaham paid by “wire transfer and checks that cleared,” he said.
A source close to the matter had a different version of events, saying Allaham was unable to book a majority of the 400 hotel rooms he had paid for in advance of the holiday, and that the hotel is suing him to collect the remaining approximately $1 million of the $2 million contract.
The Jewish Week reached out to Heller for comment on the claim that the rooms went unbooked.
A Hilton spokesperson confirmed that the hotel filed a lawsuit against the Passover group, The Prime Experience, in the state of California. But the spokesperson declined to comment on matters “pending litigation,” according to reports.
Now, guests will have to wait for the case to be adjudicated to be reimbursed, according to Heller, Allaham’s attorney, who said guests paid Allaham’s group directly. Litigation is likely to take many months, he said.
Last November, an arbitrator in a legal case involving Allaham’s 2015 Passover program in Puerto Rico ruled in his favor over the Vieques Hotel Partners, owners of the W Retreat and Spa. According to Allaham’s complaint, the hotel staff carried out “numerous repugnant and indefensible acts of hostility, bias, malice, discrimination, anti-Semitism … vandalism and theft” towards his staff and guests.
Allaham is involved in an ongoing financial dispute with Lincoln Square Synagogue on the Upper West Side, and New York State officials are investigating the operations of three of his New York restaurants. Negotiations with the synagogue — to whom he owes $1.4 million, according to arbitrator Rabbi Herschel Schachter — stalled when synagogue representatives said they lacked faith in Allaham to follow through on an agreement.