Joseph P. Smith, Vineland Daily Journal
CAMDEN – Kline Construction Co., one of New Jersey’s largest “utility support” companies, filed a petition in U.S. District Bankruptcy Court here on Wednesday seeking Chapter 11 protection from creditors and acknowledging debts in excess of $10 million.
The voluntary filing follows a federal lawsuit filing here in late June on behalf of ex-employees of Kline Construction, claiming the family-owned company stole from their retirement benefits accounts over a period of years.
A call to the company’s main office in Galloway Township seeking comment on Thursday was referred to Ronald Samarro, a company employee named in the voluntary filing as “chief restructuring officer.”
The email address provided for Samarro did not function. A copy of the email was sent to company Vice President Katherine Kline-Penate, but no response was received Thursday.
A message also was left Thursday at the office of Atlantic City attorney Michael J. Viscount Jr., who is bankruptcy counsel for the company. No response was received Thursday.
The petition, filed electronically late Wednesday, estimates Kline Construction has assets between $500,001 and $1 million against estimated liabilities of $10,000,001 to $50 million.
The petition identifies the largest creditor as Hach Rose Schirripa & Cheverie, a New York City law firm helping represent 14 ex-employees claiming their retirement benefits were stolen. The estimated claim is $5 million.
Attorney Frank R. Schirripa declined comment on Thursday until he could review the petition.
After the law firm, the filing identifies the unsecured creditors with the largest claims as a handful of union locals in disputes with Kline Construction over benefits payments. Those total about $2.82 million to Locals 472 and 172; IUOE Local 825, $475,607; and IBEW Local 351, $333,081.54.
The bankruptcy filing was authorized in a “unanimous written consent” of Kline Construction’s board of directors. The consent was signed by Chairman J. Edward Kline and Vice Chairman William H. Kline.
Chapter 11 filings typically indicate the company desires to stay in business after reorganizing.
The June 2019 lawsuit in U.S. District Court names as defendants the company; the company 401 (K) Plan; Kline-Penate, who also is chief financial officer; J. Edward Kline; and Robert Miller, identified as a president and plan trustee.
The plaintiffs all worked in a division that built and maintained natural gas distribution lines.
The lawsuit seeks repayment of the allegedly misappropriated funds, unspecified damages and costs, and appointment of independent oversight of the 401(k) Plan.
The 14 men are members of International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, Local S-76. The Gas Division in which they worked has been dissolved, according to the complaint.
According to its website, Kline Construction was founded in 1945 in Brigantine and currently has more than 300 employees.