Where in the World are Wallace and Bajjali? - KOAM TV 7

Where in the World are Wallace and Bajjali?

Alleged photo of Wallace in Peru Alleged photo of Wallace in Peru
Part one:  A lawsuit with an underlying purpose?

Developers David Wallace and Costa Bajjali are two people now part of Joplin's history, although the two never built anything as they had promised.  Some people who may be especially interested in the whereabouts now of Wallace and Bajjali are those who are owed money from the now defunct developer.

 Attorney Karl Blanchard is Joplin's hired gun, an attorney suing Joplin's former master redeveloper.  The case comes after Wallace and Bajjali left town.  The two were hired to redevelop Joplin after the 2011 tornado.  Joplin's city officials haven't been able to contact either David Wallace or Costa Bajjali since.

Now, the city is paying Blanchard to represent the city in a lawsuit that Blanchard himself says is next to impossible to collect.

Last week a hearing in the lawsuit took place, and it was a victory for the city, at least it looked that way.  Wallace nor Bajjali answered the court summons, and neither showed up in court.

"I think we've got a judgement.  Collecting it, another question," says Blanchard.

A circuit court judge in Jasper County ruled the city is owed one million 475 thousand dollars.  The city's attorney, Peter Edwards, testified under oath that Joplin gave this money to Wallace Bajjali, and the redeveloper was supposed to pay this money back through projects that never came to fruition.  Those projects included building a new senior housing center, a new movie theater, and library.

Now it's a case being built.

"If we can find some assets of the partnership, we'll go after them," says Blanchard.

But Blanchard says he's not seen evidence yet of any assets.

"I think it's a mess," says Joplin City Councilman Bill Scearce.

Scearce says he knows the real reason the city is going after Wallace and Bajjali.  It's to counteract another possible lawsuit.

"I think it's a mess because Prime got duped by giving a line of credit to someone who didn't have any place else to go," says Scearce.

Prime Incorporated, a trucking company in Springfield, Missouri, loaned money to Wallace Bajjali.  Joplin's mayor and city manager first said there was no way Joplin owed that money back to Prime.  But we talked to Prime's attorney, and found out that Prime believes they are owed money from the city.

In Missouri, there's what's called offsetting judgement.  It's when two lawsuits end up canceling each other.  There's no lawsuit from Prime against the city yet, but Scearce says he and other council members thought it was important to sue Wallace Bajjali for protection from Prime.

"I know that judgement was asked for, was in case there were some survivor benefits, and in case we owed them any money," says Scearce.

Scearce says City Attorney Peter Edwards told him the city does, in fact, owe Prime money.

"That's his opinion.  I say, opinions are rendered by attorneys, and judgements are rendered by judges," says Scearce.

Scearce says the city is hoping to offset a possible lawsuit by Prime by getting a judgement against Wallace Bajjali.  According to Scearce, the city could end up owning Prime more money.

"He said it may be more," says Scearce, referring to Joplin's city attorney.

But that's not what the mayor has said.

We asked the city attorney to comment on the city's lawsuit against Wallace Bajjali.  Edwards, through the city's public information officer, says he doesn't comment on litigation.  

Scearce and Blanchard both say there are plenty of unknowns.  Topping the list:  Where in the World are Wallace and Bajjali?

The City of Joplin has paid attorney Karl Blanchard more than one thousand one hundred dollars so far for Wallace Bajjali litigation services.

Part two:  "On Top of the World"

The two developers once wanted the spotlight to talk about their proposed multi-million dollar construction projects in Joplin after the tornado.  But after they left town without warning, both of them have been trying to avoid any publicity.

The City of Sugar Land, Texas is near Houston.  It's the home of David Wallace.  His former co-worker, Costa Bajjali, lives nearby.  Residents there say they've unfortunately become used to media trying to track down both Wallace and Bajjali.  But we were different.  We were the news station from Joplin, and people there had a special message for us.

Lone Star natives say David Wallace defined Texas charm.

Elsa Malakoff Maxey is a columnist with a newspaper that covers Wallace's hometown of Sugar Land.

"An ambassador of good will," says Maxey with the Fort Bend Star newspaper.  "Any time he would walk into any room, it lit up.  He was a good spokesman for whatever cause it was he was representing."

Maxey says Wallace has the good looks, that million dollar smile, a sparkle in his eye.  And he can sing.

"The citizens there in Joplin were pretty much mesmerized by David, I think, to a certain extent," says Maxey.

David Wallace and Costa Bajjali were hired in 2012 to redevelop Joplin after a devastating tornado.  Years went by, and nothing was built.  But many Joplin city officials still stood behind Wallace.

"We have full faith in Wallace Bajjali as a partnership.  They're in it with us.  We're in it together," says Melodee Colbert Kean, who was Joplin mayor at the time.

Wallace and Bajjali left Joplin for good in January, without notice.  Joplin city officials, and Sugar Land locals, want to know what happened?

"I've read about it in the Houston Chronicle," says Amy Shepard, a Sugar Land resident.

Shepard has been looking for David Wallace.

"I heard he was in hiding, from what the Chronicle said," said Shepard.

Wallace's listed address is in Amy Shepard's neighborhood, much to Shepard's surprise.

"I'm kind of just floored.  I've lived in this neighborhood for 13 years, and know most of my neighbors.  So I'm kind of chocked to find that out," says Shepard.

We went to Wallace's house, and spoke to his wife Jennifer, who said he was out of town.

Then we went to the home of Costa Bajjali.  His wife Kristi answered the door.

"What I can say is, I think he has been wanting to put a statement together, but has not been in the position to do that," says Kristi Bajjali.

Bajjali later called us and said he has no comment, under advice from his attorney.  But Wallace never got back to us.

"I've not seen him, except for last year," says Maxey.

His absence is unusual for Sugar Land.  Wallace is etched in Sugar Land's history, first being city councilman in 2001, then mayor from 2002 to 2008.  

Maxey says in between the two political titles, Wallace almost drowned in an accident.  He took his survival as a second chance of life, with a special purpose.

"With that, we knew that probably he was going to do something really good with his life," says Maxey.

After Wallace decided not to rerun for mayor, he and Costa went into the development business full-time.  Maxey watched as the duo was selected as Joplin's master redeveloper, then as the company vanished.

People in Sugar Land may not directly feel duped by Wallace Bajjali, but they say they feel sorry for Joplin.  A picture of an alleged Facebook post from Wallace's wife, dated February 19, was about 24 days after Wallace Bajjali resigned as Joplin's developer.  David Wallace filed for bankruptcy March 23.

"There was a picture of David and his wife at Machu Picchu, in Peru.  ...look at what it says:  On top of the world," says Maxey.

"My heart goes out for the people in Joplin, for sure.  Hope that things are made accountable, the way they should be," says Shepard.

David Wallace does have a new job.  A worker with an Austin, Texas based company called "International Accelerator" confirms Wallace is one of their mentors.  The company helps non-U.S. citizens set-up a company here in the U.S.  Wallace's biography on the company's website does not list his time in Joplin.

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