Vlad Ghenciu’s story is one that many Romanian Americans that came to the United States are familiar with. Originally from Timisoara, born on June 21, 1986, Vlad’s family came to America soon after the fall of Communism. Over his career, Vlad has defended and has taken over 500 depositions in the fields of personal injury, employment law, and insurance coverage.
He recently became the President of the newly established Romanian American Chamber of Commerce in Los Angeles, which in US is the oldest bilateral trade association, dedicated to the development of prosperous business relationships between Romania and the United States. He hopes under his presidency, the Los Angeles Chapter is going to bring Romanian businesses together and find mutual support when needed.
Irina VanPatten: Vlad Ghenciu, since you recently became the President of Romanian American Chamber of Commerce in Los Angeles, let’s first start with a brief background story about yourself.
Vlad Ghenciu: I was born in Romania, Timisoara in 1986. I was fortunate enough to immigrate to the United States in December 1991. I lived in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where my parents were studying to get their PHD at the University of Pittsburgh in chemical engineering. In 1996 we moved to Charleston, West Virginia, where my mother was employed by Union Carbide, now Dow Chemical. We lived there until 2000. Then we moved to the suburbs of Philadelphia where I went to high school. I went to college at Georgetown University in Washington, DC I graduated in three years and worked a little bit for a law firm in Charleston, West Virginia.
I graduated from Loyola Law School in Los Angeles in December, 2012. I was licensed as an attorney in December, 2013, and I’ve been practicing as an attorney in California for almost six years. I’m licensed in both state and federal courts in California. 90-95% of my practice is civil litigation. Basically, the lawsuits that I deal with are personal injury litigation, business disputes, a little bit of real estate. I do some transactional work, meaning, I write contracts, review contracts, make sure contracts are good. And then, I’d say 5% of my work is criminal defense. I have my own office and I am of counsel to another firm.
I.V: How did you become the president of Romanian American Chamber of Commerce (RACC)?
V.G: I picked up the phone and I called Mr. Wexler in New York. Literally, one night, as I was preparing to go to court the next day, I said, I want to see if there’s a Romanian American Chamber of Commerce in the U.S. I got on this a fantastic invention called Google and I looked it up, and I saw there’s a chapter in New York. I emailed Mr. Wexler that night and he called me back. We talked. One thing led to another, and here we are.
I.V: What’s the difference between the one in New York and one in Los Angeles?
V.G: The Chapter in New York was originally founded in 1990, right after the fall of the communist regime, by Mark Meyer, who’s a licensed attorney in New York. It’s trademarked and incorporated in New York and Delaware, so that’s the umbrella organization. Mr. Meyer worked with both the Romanian Government in Bucharest and the Republic of Moldova in Chisinau. What we’re setting up in Los Angeles with myself, Ady Simion and Jacob Segal is the Los Angeles Chapter of the Romanian American Chamber of Commerce. We’re under the New York leadership, but we have a lot of local control.
I.V: How is your profession as a lawyer helping you to be a president of that chapter?
V.G: One of the things that I’ve learned is that one of the most important things as an attorney is to realize that you have to negotiate and settle things, and put your client’s interests before your own, either financial desires or even professional goals.
For example, I have a lot of cases that are set for trial. Very few of them go to trial. It’s best to look at the bigger picture and realize that your clients have an interest above yours. I have a fiduciary duty as an attorney. That’s the highest duty of care, loyalty and competence to my clients. I basically have to put their interests ahead of mine, even if it means they make more money and I might not make, as much as I want.
As the president of this organization, first of all, I’m working pro bono, as are Ady and Jacob. We are working for free. Mr. Simion works for free. Mr. Jacob Segal works for free. We’re putting the interests of the Romanian American community before our own. Also, putting together deals is something that an attorney does on a daily basis and it’s something that the business community values greatly.
I.V: What will be the meaning of the Romanian American Chamber of Commerce? Why do you do this and why is it so important to you?
V.G: I believe in strength in numbers. I was involved very much in politics on the East coast. I worked for a couple of US senators: Arlen Specter, Rick Santorum, some local state legislative leaders in Pennsylvania, and an attorney general in West Virginia. One of the things I learned there is: „Don’t get mad, get organized”. There are between 150,000 to 200,000 Romanian Americans, or people claiming to be Romanian Americans, in California.
If you’re organized and you’re able to set up some kind of entity like a Chamber of Commerce or a cultural entity, like “Viitorul Român”, you’re going to have a strong position in the community, because you’re going to be able to put people together with common interests of paying members, and be able to lobby the government or other business entities.
Since we are not just dealing with one person, but with 5,000 or 10,000, we can move votes. We can guarantee you votes. That’s very important in a representative democracy like the United States and the State of California, so I want to move the agenda of the Romanian American community together. The Chamber of Commerce is very conducive to doing that.
I.V: What is the Romanian agenda? What is the Romanian community the most interested in, that they need to be lobbied for?
V.G: I can’t speak on behalf of the entire Romanian American community. I don’t think it’s a monolithic block. The business community in Southern California, as a whole, share some similarities. I take this from a nonpartisan, non ideological, not Democratic, not Republican agenda, but there are some things that are necessary.
For example, streamlining the way how to incorporate a business with the Secretary of State. There’s a lot of paperwork that needs to be done, that a business person, coming from Romania to the United States, might not know, and could use a lot of help from an attorney like myself.
Mr. Segal is involved in raising capital for midsize to large size businesses. If a Romanian American or anyone comes to Southern California with a great idea, you can’t move an agenda, you can’t move a business without capital. He will be able to put that together. Ady Simion is a highly skilled realtor and is involved in the real estate community.
If you need to buy or lease a commercial property to locate your office, he would be able to cut through that enormously. I could put together the contracts and the business litigation, should there not be a payment of contracts. Setting up the business and streamlining it, as fast as possible, given the bureaucracy that exists, it’s very important.
I.V: What are the legal issues, that may arise from all of this paperwork and other things during the set up of a business here, that are you dealing with, and that you could help with?
V.G: I’ll give you an example. I represent doctors. It’s not a 100% of my business, but sometimes medical doctors, chiropractors, orthopedic surgeons or dentists may treat patients in a lawsuit on what’s known as a lien, meaning they don’t get paid until the lawsuit settles. Let’s say their bill is $50,000 or $200,000 and the attorney on the other side says: „I’m going to pay you $2,500 or $10,000. Take it or leave it.”
Obviously, that’s a breach of contract. In order to make sure, that the doctor gets paid, let’s say, 75 cents on the dollar, rather than 5 cents on the dollar, and can continue to stay in business, a lawsuit would need to be filed. You can write all the letters you want. You can make all the phone calls you want. At the end of the day, if you’re not willing to take the matter to court and say, we’re going to make you pay in court, it’s not going to get done. That’s more of a collections issue, making sure that the money on the contract gets honored. Other matters, as I mentioned, are real estate deals and making sure that contracts are valid, because they need to be enforced.
I.V: Let’s talk about the businesses that you are working with and trying to promote. How do you help the businesses that are coming from Romania or any Eastern European country, honestly, that are here to actually do an honest business and not to launder money?
V.G: First of all, you’ve touched on something very important. I want to stress something and I can tell you that both Mr. Segal and Mr. Simion would agree with me. We don’t discriminate. You don’t have to be owned by an ethnic Romanian or by a Romanian American. Anyone who’s interested in Romania could participate. Obviously, if you’re a Romanian or Romanian American, you’re probably interested in Romania more, but we don’t discriminate ethnically. So we’ll start with that.
Regarding making sure that there is no money laundering. There is a “Know Your Customer” law in the United States. That’s more of a banking issue, that the banks have to deal with. But there is an investigative process that attorneys look into.
For example, if a business is here, one of the first things I do is to look it up the California Secretary of State database. I can look up and see who owns the land, what the mortgage looks like, where some of the money came from. There are ways to look into it, but you’re never going to be 100% certain unless the bank is wanting to get involved, and look at all the transactions. But if we’re going to put some capital forward, we will comply with federal law.
I.V: Are there any businesses that you helped already or are in the process of helping that you can name?
V.G: There is the attorney-client privilege, so I can’t name clients. I have assisted in small real estate deals, have secured funding, but most of my work is civil litigation. Originally, I started out as a business lawyer and I assisted with some land deals.
i.V: Now let’s talk about RACC having its own program, being watched on over 300 stations across United States. Are there ethnic Romanian media outlets or any Eastern European?
V.G: Our goal is to communicate to a like-minded group of people about this organization. If we could communicate to Romanian Americans in California, and Southern California, in particular, that would be our first goal. If we could communicate to people who would be interested in the Chamber of Commerce throughout the United States, that would be assist our goals. We would like to put together a marketing campaign that targets people who are interested to conduct business with Southern California based Romanians, and Southern California people interested both in the Romanian community here and in Romania.