Jamie Dimon’s son-in-law has been caught up in an ugly dispute with a Texas-based energy executive, who has accused him, along with private-equity giant Apollo Global Management, of orchestrating a scheme to stiff the oil-and-gas driller out of his stake in the lucrative company he built.
Joey Romeo — a Princeton-educated buyout executive who married his Harvard Business School sweetheart, Julia Dimon, in 2011 — is part of a group of Apollo execs accused of luring Varun Mishra into a partnership that eventually turned sour, with Mishra alleging he got cheated out of $21 million, according to an explosive arbitration claim Mishra filed last month.
After tapping Mishra’s expertise on natural gas and petroleum to build an energy business, Romeo and other Apollo executives allegedly pushed him out as CEO – a coup that came shortly after Mishra raised questions about millions of dollars that Romeo had ordered be charged to the company’s expense accounts, according to the filing.
People close to Apollo denied that any expenses paid by Varun’s company were inappropriate.
The spat offers a rare glimpse inside not only the rough-and-tumble world of private-equity deals, but also the business of family members of the billionaire boss of JPMorgan Chase, who have mostly kept a low profile.
Romeo, now in his late 30s, owns a unit in 1185 Park Ave. – two floors below the legendary banking tycoon – a $7 million, 3,825-square-foot spread that is the former home of iconic furniture designer Vladimir Kagan, property records show.
Aside from a few wedding snaps on social media, one of the few publicly available photos of Romeo surfaced in a controversial December 2013 Christmas card, in which Dimon and his family romped around the palatial apartment hitting tennis balls. In one shot, Romeo was caught leaping barefoot over furniture.
Romeo has been at Apollo since 2013 – and was brought on board at the urging of the late, legendary JPMorgan dealmaker Jimmy Lee, according to sources. Before Apollo, Romeo had been an associate at GE Capital’s Energy Financial Services business.
“Jimmy called a lot of people to say, ‘Hire Joey,’” a source with knowledge of Apollo told The Post. “Joey did not go through the normal recruitment process.”
MIshra, meanwhile, claims that Romeo got snooty and sarcastic as their business relationship steadily went south.
“Joseph Romeo can be described as a person who constantly belittles you,” Mishra, a 41-year-old Indian immigrant who came to the US as a student, said in a written statement to The Post. “Without knowing me – or my immigration history – he commented on me that ‘Isn’t it too easy for you all to make money?’”
Romeo, who is named as a defendant in the arbitration claim along with Apollo and other various current and former employees at the firm, didn’t respond to The Post’s request for comment.
An Apollo spokesman told The Post that Mishra was “disgruntled” and said that he had been fired “for cause.” The spokesman added that Mishra had engaged six different sets of lawyers and filed a previous arbitration demand, “which he voluntarily withdrew.”
“We strongly support our team and categorically reject Mr. Mishra’s false, defamatory and constantly changing allegations,” the Apollo spokesman said.
Mishra told The Post he withdrew a previous arbitration claim because he believed it gave him a better chance to settle with Apollo. After that settlement fell apart, Mishra said he filed the current one.
According to Mishra’s claim, Apollo executives approached him in 2015 to offer at least $400 million to build out a business that would eventually become American Petroleum Partners. Under the agreement, Mishra would contribute Pennsylvania wells he’d amassed and serve as CEO on an H1-B visa while Apollo would provide the capital for expansion.
But the next year, Apollo and Romeo pulled the rug out on Mishra, axing a deal for APP to acquire a major natural gas fracking company for $360 million – only to turn around and scoop up the company through another firm in which some Apollo principals were “likely direct or indirect beneficiaries,” according to arbitration papers.
Despite allegedly getting shortchanged by Apollo on the fracking deal, Mishra had already committed his wells to the APP venture, according to the complaint.
By that time, Mishra told The Post, he noticed Romeo had been approving expenses for Apollo executives’ limousines and other high-end travel to be paid for out of American Petroleum. According to Mishra’s suit, Romeo was siphoning “multiple millions of dollars” out of Mishra’s business to pad the accounts of Apollo and its affiliates.
Mishra alleges that Romeo had directed Collin King, then-APP’s chief financial officer, to “make substantial payments to Apollo without Mishra’s knowledge of approval.”
“Before he was fired, to my knowledge, he never alleged that the company reimbursed expenses — to Apollo or anyone else — that were not 100% legitimate company expenses,” King, who now works for APP’s successor company High Road Resources, told The Post. “Romeo never directed me to approve any inappropriate expenses, and I never did so.”
MIshra and his attorney both told The Post that he had indeed raised the issue of inappropriate expenses with King and with Romeo directly.
Mishra claims he rang alarm bells, bringing it to Romeo’s supervisor’s attention, but his protests blew up in his face. On Nov. 7, 2019, Romeo traveled to Canonsburg, Pa., with his boss, Olivia Wassenaar, to confront Mishra. They demanded he resign and accept a “paltry” payout — saying otherwise “he would be terminated for cause,” the filing claims.
Mishra refused, noting in his arbitration filing that he’d never been reprimanded or warned – let alone disciplined – for his performance as APP’s president and CEO, nor had he received any written notice of any violations of his employment agreement.
The allegations come as Apollo is under a consent decree from 2016 after the Securities and Exchange Commission said an Apollo senior partner improperly charged expenses to certain company-run funds. If Mishra’s claims are found to have merit, they could trigger another SEC probe of Apollo’s practices, sources told The Post.
Ernest Badway, a partner at law firm Fox Rothschild, said the optics of the allegations “look awful,” but added that they’re not necessarily illegal. “Sadly, it would be misallocating expenses” if Apollo partners charged travel and other outlays to APP instead of the firm itself, Badway said.
“The SEC has started investigations with much less than this,” he said. Still, Badway said, SEC regulators will focus on who was potentially harmed by Romeo and Apollo’s alleged actions; if investors didn’t suffer any losses – and only Mishra did – regulators might be less apt to probe the situation.
Meanwhile, Apollo sold APP’s assets in 2020 to Quantum Energy Partners-owned Tug Hill Operating for around $30 million, the arbitration claim alleges. In May of last year, Quantum sold its assets – including the former APP’s – to Premier Natural Resources for $6 billion, the claim alleges.
Mishra received around $700,000 for his APP stake after the Tug sale, but he claims he should have received $21 million based on what the assets resold for – including the $10 million in capital he put up when he inked a deal with Apollo.