Just before Thanksgiving, David Belford, owner of United Furniture Industries in Northeast Mississippi, informed all 2,700 of his workers that they no longer had jobs.
Friday, the New York Post reported that Belford is missing and nowhere to be found.
However, multiple people told the Clarion Ledger Friday that Belford is believed to be in Paris staying at an upscale hotel.
“There are a lot of people that would like to see him right now,” said Philip Hearn, a Jackson-based attorney representing laid-off United Furniture workers from Mississippi. “I have talked with people who know he is in Paris and have been in touch with him.”
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While United Industries is based near Tupelo in Okolona, Belford is not a Mississippian.
United Furniture makes furniture under its brand and the Lane Home Furnishings brand, which it acquired in 2017 from Heritage Home Group LLC for an undisclosed sum. Lane was founded in 1912 in Virginia and merged with Tupelo-based Action Industries in 1972.
Belford, as noted in the New York Post Story, has been widely known for his philanthropic efforts in past years — even as he has landed in legal scraps and contentious bankruptcy proceedings, according to news reports and court documents.
United Furniture had become one of the largest furniture businesses in the country before Belford laid off nearly its entire workforce, most of which were from Northeast Mississippi.
The Clarion Ledger called Belford’s personal cell phone, but the number is no longer in service. Attempts were also made to call Belford’s brother Steve, but those calls have yet to be returned.
According to a story from the Associated Press, after the workers had been laid off via email, a second email was sent to inform them that their “layoff from the company is expected to be permanent and all benefits will be terminated immediately without provision of COBRA,” referring to the federal law that gives people who lose their jobs an option to keep their employer-sponsored health insurance coverage under some circumstances.
A class action lawsuit was filed on Nov. 30 in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi against Belford and United Industries.
Furniture Today, a trade publication, reported that United fired its chief executive, chief financial officer and executive vice president of sales in June. It then named Todd Evans, the former president of Standard Furniture, an Alabama-based company, as its new chief executive.
In addition to eight plants in Mississippi, United also had six plants in North Carolina and one in California. Layoffs took place at the North Carolina and California locations as well.
According to the New York Post story, American Freight — a discount furniture company that his brother Steve founded 28 years ago and later sold — sued Belford last year, alleging that he stole trade secrets and violated non-compete agreements after being bought out by its new owner for $15 million. His investment firm, Stage Capital and a company he owned — Surplus Freight — were also named in the complaint, as was American Freight’s former CEO, Asaph Rink.