Luis Ruelas has agreed to pay out of his own pocket to help settle a federal civil lawsuit filed against a company he invested in, court documents filed in bankruptcy proceedings show. “Real Housewives of New Jersey” star Teresa Giudice’s fiance and his company, Produce Depot, have been hit with several claims accusing the produce wholesaler of failing to pay vendors for orders in 2020.
Ruelas will be paying $20,000 to settle one of the company’s debts, to Minnesota-based C.H. Robinson, while Produce Depot will be paying the remainder of the $120,000 debt. Produce Depot will be paying the full $100,000 debt to another company that sued Ruelas, Prometo Produce Corp., according to court filings. A bankruptcy judge will decide whether to approve the settlements.
Produce Depot filed for bankruptcy in New York federal court in March 2022 as the legal disputes and debts piled up. Ruelas and Produce Depot will not be admitting any liability as part of the settlement, the court documents show. Produce Depot is no longer operating as a business, court records show.
Attorneys representing Ruelas and Produce Depot in the bankruptcy case and civil lawsuits did not immediately respond to requests for comment from Heavy. Ruelas has not publicly commented about the issues surrounding the New York-based business he partially owns. Produce Depot’s lawyers said in the bankruptcy filings that the company has debts totaling $1.6 million and was more than $878,000 in the red in 2020. A hearing in the bankruptcy case was held before U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Elizabeth S. Stong in Brooklyn on May 26. The next hearing is scheduled for July 1, 2022.
Louie Ruelas Owns 60% of Produce Depot, but He Says He Wasn’t Involved in the Day-to-Day Operations of the Bronx-Based Company
According to court documents obtained by Heavy, Ruelas owns 60% of Produce Depot through his New Jersey-based company Book 3 LLC. His business partner, Gaetano “Guy” Balzano, owns 20% of the company. Both were named in lawsuits filed against Produce Depot. But attorneys representing the men said in court filings neither was involved in the day-to-day operations of Produce Depot. Court filings in the bankruptcy proceedings indicate Ruelas and Balzano could seek civil action against the person who was running the company for breach of fiduciary duties, fraud and negligent actions.
Produce Depot was founded in 2019. The company’s Facebook page says, “As a proud member of the Bronx community since our establishment in 2019, Produce Depot USA has been supplying its clients with the very best in the Produce Wholesaler industry. Get our freshest and most delicious products for a fair price.”
According to court documents, Produce Depot sold more than $10.3 million of product in 2020, but after expenses, the company finished the year with a loss of $878,741. Produce Depot is named in two ongoing federal lawsuits. C.H. Robinson Worldwide accused the company of failing to pay $113,404 for orders of fresh fruits and vegetables, including, pineapple, apples, tomatoes and sweet potatoes, purchased in October and November 2020.
Another company, Prometo Produce, based in California, said in its lawsuit that Produce Depot failed to pay 127,540 for avocado orders delivered to them between August and September 2020, court filings show. Produce Depot has also settled other lawsuits with three other companies that accused the company of failing to pay thousands of dollars for orders they delivered.
The Bankruptcy Case Could Be Moved to New Jersey
According to court filings, the bankruptcy case could be moved from the Eastern District of New York to New Jersey federal court. A federal official argued in a May 27, 2022, court filing that Produce Depot did not file its bankruptcy case in the proper venue.
William Harrington, the U.S. Trustee for Region 2, said in the court filing, Produce Depot was operating in the Bronx, which is in the Southern District of New York, before it ceased operations and its financial records were kept in New Jersey, where Balzano and Ruelas live.
Ruelas, who purchased a $3.3 million New Jersey home with Giudice in 2021, according to public records, has been involved in several business ventures, including his company Digital Media Solutions. The “RHONJ” star has also used his companies to help give back to his community. In March 2020, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ruelas and Balzano were thanked by a community organization for donations of food.
The Nyack Center wrote on Facebook, “A gigantic thank you to Louis Ruelas of Digital Media Solutions and Guy Balzano of Produce Depot USA pictured with Nyack Center Executive Director Kim Cross for your donation of 3 pallets of fresh fruit, toilet paper and staples. This will go to over 130 children and families in our community! These 2 generous companies also generously donated to community partners The Center for Safety and Change and The Rockland Pride Center!”