A former leaseholder of the historic Queen Mary ocean liner was indicted last week for allegedly defrauding two investors of a combined $1.2 million in Nassau County, New York on Long Island.

Taylor Woods, 52, formerly a principal of the now-defunct Urban Commons, was arrested  Tuesday, Feb. 6, according to a press release from Nassau County District Attorney Anne Donnelly. Woods was arraigned on charges of two counts of grand larceny and one count of scheme to defraud — all felonies — and is facing a maximum of five to15 years in prison.

Donnelly accused Woods of duping two people into investing $1.2 million into a company he said was poised to buy the Queen Mary lease and Urban Common’s other assets out of bankruptcy.

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Woods pleaded not guilty and was released on his own recognizance, the DA’s office said. Woods’ lawyer denied the charges.

“This was an investment opportunity for Mr. Woods and others. It did not work out,” attorney Bruce Barket said. “Everyone lost money. Mr. Woods lost more than anyone else. The idea that this is criminal is, frankly, absurd.”

The DA’s office, however, outlined a case they claim shows Woods knowingly scammed the two investors out of their money.

During the summer of 2020, months before Urban Commons officially filed for bankruptcy following a disastrous public offering on the Singapore stock exchange, Woods allegedly began discussing an investment opportunity to purchase a portfolio of 18 hotels out of bankruptcy. At its height, Urban Commons operated 19 hotel properties, including eight in California, three in Colorado, two in Texas and one each in Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, New Jersey, New York and Utah.

Urban Commons filed for bankruptcy in January 2021. Shortly thereafter, Woods was put in contact with two investors from Nassau County, the DA said. He claimed they could invest in a new company, Sky Holdings LLC, which was controlled by Woods and set to acquire, own, operate and then sell a 50% share of the equity of Eagle Hospitality Trust — Urban Commons’ publicly traded entity.

Woods allegedly told investors financing was in place for the acquisition except for the final $10 million, which was needed quickly as the deal was set to close in a matter of weeks. Woods told the investors that a mortgage for the hotels was already in place, according to the DA.

On Feb. 4, 2021, one of the victims invested $1 million into Sky Holdings, Donnelly said, in exchange for 50% of the equity in the bankruptcy portfolio. The agreement stipulated that all funds would be returned if the deal fell through.

One month later, the second victim invested $200,000 into the company with a similar agreement, the DA said.

Sky Holdings, meanwhile, never received any other investments toward the acquisition, the DA alleges. The $1.2 million instead was “spent on various expenses” by Woods.

“Our investigation revealed his overtures were nothing more than a sham, the investment was not funded, and the defendant allegedly spent his victims’ funds,” Donnelly said in the announcement. “Investing always comes with risk, but it should never be because of untrustworthy partners engaging in fraud.”

Woods is due back in court March 13, according to the DA’s office.

The city of Long Beach has owned the Queen Mary since 1967 when it arrived from England, but until recently, the city has leased the ship and its surrounding land to a string of operators — all of which failed to preserve the ship and/or develop the area.

Multiple operators went bankrupt.

Urban Commons was awarded a contract to operate the Queen in 2015 with the firm purchasing the ship’s 66-year lease out of default for $69 million. The move came less than a year after Urban Commons purchased the Nickelodeon Hotel in Orlando for $41 million — a property that then underwent a $27.5 million overhaul to become the 24-acre, 777-room Holiday Inn Resort Orlando Suites and Waterpark.

Urban Commons announced grandiose plans for the land surrounding the Long Beach icon, which it dubbed Queen Mary Island. The $250 million development project would have seen the addition of tens of thousands of square feet of restaurants, retail and hotels to the area, with the Queen Mary as the centerpiece. But it never got off the ground.

While the company had renovated properties like in Florida, large-scale development was a new endeavor, and the company had a hard enough time keeping the ship afloat let alone delivering on its grand promises.

The city issued $23 million in bonds for major repairs to be completed aboard the ship but, under Urban Commons’ watch, the funds were depleted before most of the repairs were completed.

The pandemic and subsequent closure of the Queen Mary was the final straw for Urban Commons. The company’s bankruptcy filing left countless individuals and entities out millions of dollars — from wedding deposits to multi-million-dollar investments.

The city of Long Beach, for its part, had sued the firm to determine whether or not it had defrauded it out of the $23 million in bonds for repairs. In October of last year, however, the city dropped out of the bankruptcy case. It remained on a list of creditors, seeking $200,000, but did not expect a payout.

Since Urban Commons’ bankruptcy, the city has retained sole control of the ship, opting to abandon the leaseholder model that failed for over half a century. Over the past three years, the city has spent tens of millions of dollars on repairs aboard the Queen Mary, which reopened in April after a more than three-year closure. It is now turning a modest monthly profit but is far from recouping the losses that have been covered with public funds.

Brandon Richardson is a reporter and photojournalist for the Long Beach Post and Long Beach Business Journal.