Unanswered Questions at Status Labs

Jumpolin demo results in CEO resignation

A photo posted along with Status Labs' open letter announcing Jordan French's resignation as CEO
A photo posted along with Status Labs' open letter announcing Jordan French's resignation as CEO (Courtesy of Status Labs)

Last week's forced resignation of Jordan French – one of the men behind the demolition of the Eastside piñata store Jumpolin – as CEO of the self-described "online reputation management" firm Status Labs has left unanswered questions. (See "Jordan French Out at Status Labs," March 26.) Purportedly a step to appease outraged members of the East Cesar Chavez neighborhood, the action is instead being met with skepticism among residents.

In a widely distributed press release, a Status Labs spokesperson detailed how company employees asked French to resign "after reviewing actions taken outside of his role at Status Labs that do not represent the values of the company." The most notable of those actions is the Feb. 12 demolition: The building at 1401 East Cesar Chavez Street was razed to make room at the property French and partner Darius Fisher bought in October through another business of theirs, F&F Real Estate Ventures. City documents indicate the partners made plans months before its demolition to stage a party at the property (see "Gentrification Refugees," Feb. 27). Jumpolin owners Sergio and Monica Lejarazu (the store has since relocated to a temporary site at 4926 E. Cesar Chavez) contend they were given no notice of demolition and were current on rental payments, despite French's assertions to the contrary. The couple has since sued the landowners for the loss of their livelihood, with a trial set for this summer.

The Status Labs prepared statement seems to buttress the Lejarazus' claims and validate community anger: "While our former CEO's inexcusable actions were performed outside of his role at Status Labs, we would still like to extend our sincere regrets and apologies to the Lejarazu family and to our fellow Austinites. We feel that the actions taken and the insensitive comments made by Jordan were way out of line with our values and beliefs."

French compared the husband-and-wife entrepreneurs to "roaches" in a Feb. 15 interview with CultureMap. After an initial response to questions, French did not respond to a request from the Chronicle to confirm or clarify the comment (see "Sign of the Times?" Feb. 20) even while personally apologizing to the Lejarazus via an email exchange.

Despite French's ouster as head of Status Labs, the umbrage of community advocates has not waned. What's more, some have questioned how his forced resignation from Status Labs mitigates his activities as would-be real estate tycoon at F&F Ventures, a company that remains active in the East Cesar Chavez neighborhood, as evidenced by the current renovations on an adjoining property on Navasota Street, and the listing on Airbnb of three nearby homes the company owns. Some even took objection to Status Labs' standing behind Fisher, while ostracizing French.

"While these [Status Labs] employees may make a distinction between French and Fisher, they are still very clearly working together as F&F Real Estate Ventures," wrote Christopher Ledesma, an administrator of the Justice for Jumpolin Com­mun­ity Action Facebook page. "Once the trial is resolved, they will also still be attempting to develop the Jumpolin lot, presumably in a manner that will be as neglectful of the neighborhood as their original demolition."

Questions about Fisher's role went unanswered when the Chronicle reached out to Status Labs spokeswoman Sarah Pendley. "I completely understand and we want to help you as much as we can," Pendley wrote last Saturday. "I've sent the questions on to Darius [Fisher] who is in New York. It may take him a few days to reply." Fisher had yet to respond at press time, despite the fact that one of Status Labs' "Top 5 Tips for Crafting a Successful PR Pitch" advises readers to "Go above and beyond for the journalist. Accommodate their requests in a timely manner." (See "Status Labs Offers 5 Tips for Crafting a Successful PR Pitch," PR Newswire, Jan. 16.) The reluctance to answer questions is nothing new for the pair. In his initial court deposition after the Lejarazus filed their lawsuit, French was less than forthcoming with information related to the demolition. Asked by the Lejarazus' attorney to clarify what he meant that the role of collecting rental checks from the couple "probably fell to [F&F Ventures property manager] Jeff Love," French responded "I don't know. I don't know." Asked if he ever saw rent checks himself: "No way. No way." Asked if a notice asking for a rental payment in dispute was placed on the Jumpolin door prior to demolition: "I don't know. I was told we didn't receive February rent."

The Lejarazus submitted as evidence a videotape of them making out a money order and depositing the rental payment – a safeguard to legally protect themselves against French's claims of unpaid back rent. Asked if he'd seen that video (since uploaded to YouTube) and whether it illustrates timely payment by the Lejarazus, French answered "I don't know, because I ... I ... I guess I don't have the video in my head now." But he also suggested the video may have been manipulated after the fact.

Given such evasion and lack of clarity, community advocates still pushing for justice for Jumpolin can hardly be blamed for being skeptical. After Status Labs published their letter, District 3 Council Member Sabino "Pio" Renteria wrote on Facebook, "While I am glad to hear that Status Labs is condemning the unacceptable actions and comments of their former CEO, I am hoping this is more than a calculated PR maneuver. Because 42 days later, a press release does nothing for an East Austin Family that has endured so much harm. The backlash to this deplorable action has been tremendous and I do hope this will serve as an example to any one doing business in our community that if you exploit hard working families and treat people unfairly there will be consequences."

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Jumpolin, Status Labs, Jordan French, Darius Fisher, Sergio Lejarazu, Monica Lejarazu, F&F Real Estate Ventures, gentrification, East Cesar Chavez

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