Jamie Dimon’s son-in-law is embroiled in a bitter legal battle with a Texas-based energy entrepreneur, who accuses him and private-equity firm Apollo Global Management of hatching a plot to defraud the oil-and-gas driller out of his part in the lucrative company he founded.
Joey Romeo, a Princeton-educated buyout executive who married his Harvard Business School sweetheart, Julia Dimon, in 2011, is among the Apollo executives accused of luring Varun Mishra into a partnership that eventually soured, with Mishra alleging he was cheated out of $21 million, according to an explosive arbitration claim Mishra filed last month.
After enlisting Mishra’s expertise in natural gas and petroleum to help build an energy business, Romeo and other Apollo executives allegedly ousted him as CEO – a move that occurred shortly after Mishra raised concerns about millions of dollars charged to the company’s expense accounts, according to the filing.
Varun Mishra has experience in the energy industry.
People connected to Apollo have disputed that any expenses incurred by Varun’s company were improper.
The feud provides a rare insight not only into the rough-and-tumble world of private-equity deals, but also into the business of family members of JPMorgan Chase’s billionaire CEO, who have usually kept a low profile.
According to property records, Romeo, now in his late 30s, owns an apartment at 1185 Park Ave., two floors below the famed banking tycoon, a $7 million, 3,825-square-foot spread that was the previous home of iconic furniture designer Vladimir Kagan.
Aside from a few wedding images on social media, one of the few publicly available photos of Romeo appeared in a contentious December 2013 Christmas card, in which Dimon and his family ran around the luxurious apartment hitting tennis balls. Romeo was seen leaping barefoot over furniture in one scene.
According to insiders, Romeo has been at Apollo since 2013 and was brought on board at the recommendation of the late, famed JPMorgan dealmaker Jimmy Lee. Prior to joining Apollo, Romeo worked as an associate in GE Capital’s Energy Financial Services division.
“Jimmy phoned a number of individuals and said, ‘Hire Joey,'” a source familiar with Apollo told The Post. “Joey did not go through the standard hiring process.”
Meanwhile, Mishra believes that Romeo became snobby and sarcastic as their professional relationship deteriorated.
“Joseph Romeo may be described as a person who continually belittles you,” Mishra, a 41-year-old Indian immigrant who came to the United States as a student, told The Washington Post in a written statement. “Without knowing who I was or my immigration past, he said to me, ‘Isn’t it too simple for you guys to make money?'”
Romeo, who, along with Apollo and other current and past employees at the firm, is named as a defendant in the arbitration claim, did not reply to The Post’s request for comment.
Mishra was “disgruntled,” according to an Apollo official, and he was sacked “for the cause.” Mishra had previously employed six other sets of lawyers and filed a previous arbitration demand, “which he willingly dropped,” according to the spokesman.
“We fully back our staff and categorically deny Mr. Mishra’s false, slanderous, and ever-changing charges,” stated an Apollo official.
Mishra told The Post that he withdrew a previous arbitration claim because he believed it would give him a better chance of reaching an agreement with Apollo. Mishra stated that after the previous settlement fell through, he filed the new one.
Mishra claims that Apollo executives approached him in 2015 with an offer of at least $400 million to build out a business that would eventually become American Petroleum Partners. Mishra would contribute Pennsylvania wells and serve as CEO on an H1-B visa under the terms of the arrangement, while Apollo would offer the funding for development.
However, the following year, Apollo and Romeo pulled the rug out from under Mishra by canceling a deal for APP to acquire a major natural gas fracking company for $360 million – only to turn around and acquire the company through another firm in which some Apollo principals were “likely direct or indirect beneficiaries,” according to arbitration papers.
Despite being allegedly taken advantage of by Apollo in the fracking contract, Mishra had already committed his wells to the APP partnership, according to the complaint.
Mishra told The Post that by that time, Romeo had been authorising spending for Apollo executives’ limos and other high-end trips to be paid for with American Petroleum funds. According to Mishra’s claim, Romeo was taking “many millions of dollars” from Mishra’s company to fill the books of Apollo and its affiliates.
Mishra claims Romeo authorized Collin King, then-chief APP’s financial officer, to “make significant payments to Apollo without Mishra’s knowledge or approval.”
“To my knowledge, before he was fired, he never claimed that the firm refunded payments — to Apollo or anyone else — that were not 100 percent legitimate corporate expenses,” King, who now works for APP’s successor company High Road Resources, told The Post. “Romeo never told me to authorize any unnecessary expenses, and I never did.”
Mishra and his attorney both informed The Post that he had raised the matter of excessive expenses with King and directly with Romeo.
Mishra claims he raised the alarm and brought it to Romeo’s supervisor’s attention, but his protestations backfired. On November 7, 2019, Romeo and his supervisor, Olivia Wassenaar, headed to Canonsburg, Pa., to face Mishra. They requested he resign and takes a “paltry” severance package, claiming that if he did not, “he would be terminated for cause,” according to the filing.
Mishra refused, claiming in his arbitration petition that he’d never been chastised or cautioned – let alone penalized – for his performance as APP’s president and CEO and that he’d never received any written notice of any violations of his employment agreement.
The charges come as Apollo is subject to a consent order imposed by the Securities and Exchange Commission in 2016 after the SEC found that an Apollo senior partner inappropriately attributed expenses to certain company-run funds. If Mishra’s assertions are judged to be valid, they may prompt another SEC investigation into Apollo’s activities, according to sources.
According to Ernest Badway, a partner at law firm Fox Rothschild, the claims “appear bad,” but they are not necessarily criminal. “Unfortunately, it would be misallocating resources” if Apollo partners charged travel and other outlays to APP rather than the firm itself, according to Badway.
“The SEC has begun investigations with far less,” he noted. Still, according to Badway, SEC regulators will focus on who may have been hurt by Romeo and Apollo’s alleged acts; if investors did not suffer any losses – and only Mishra did – authorities may be less likely to investigate the case.
Meanwhile, according to the arbitration claim, Apollo sold APP’s assets in 2020 to Quantum Energy Partners-owned Tug Hill Operating for roughly $30 million. According to the claim, Quantum sold its assets, including the former APP’s, to Premier Natural Resources in May of last year for $6 billion.
Mishra earned only $700,000 for his APP investment following the Tug sale, but he argues he should have received $21 million based on the value of the assets resold — including the $10 million in the capital he put up when he inked a deal with Apollo.