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Upper Crust workers’ lawyer raising funds to buy four more stores

The lawyer representing former Upper Crust employees is spearheading a fundraising effort to turn four more Upper Crust restaurants into partially worker-owned stores.

Upper Crust filed for bankruptcy protection in October and 10 stores were auctioned in December. The high bidder for the four locations – in the South End, Lexington, Wellesley, and Watertown – is UC Acquisition, an investment firm with ties to Upper Crust founder Jordan Tobins, who was placed on leave after co-owners accused him of using the company’s money for his own expenses.

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Lawyer Shannon Liss-Riordan objected to the purchase, arguing that it would violate the terms of an injunction pending against Tobins, and a judge in the bankruptcy case on Friday delayed UC Acquisition’s purchase. Liss-Riordan and a co-investor bought the Harvard Square store in the auction and plan to give employees ownership shares.

On Monday, Liss-Riordan said that she is working with a Brookline nonprofit on an online fundraising effort to collect more than the $40,000 needed to outbid UC Acquisition – and has also committed $50,000 of her own money.

Liss-Riordan will work with the losing bidders for the four stores to put the deal in place, on the condition that they give workers an ownership stake in the locations. If they don’t agree to these terms, Liss-Riordan said, she has another group of bidders lined up who will. The bidders for the South End location have already committed to the plan – and to raising their initial bid by $15,000.

The goal is to raise $50,000 on www.crowdrise.com/thejustcrust by Wednesday, which, together with the money Liss-Riordan and the South End bidders have committed, would add up to at least $75,000 more than UC Acquisition’s bid.

The money would go to the bankruptcy estate and Upper Crust creditors, including Liss-Riordan’s clients. Liss-Riordan sued the pizza chain in 2010 on behalf of immigrant workers who said the company took advantage of employees and seized their back wages.

“If we can raise enough money to convince the trustee and the bankruptcy court that this is a better option for creditors, then these will become worker-owned stores rather than stores controlled by Jordan Tobins,” she said.

A lawyer for UC Acquisition did not immediately return messages seeking comment.

The US Bankruptcy Court in Springfield gave Liss-Riordan until Jan. 7 to get a ruling from Suffolk Superior Court blocking the UC Acquisition bid. Liss-Riordan plans to submit the new proposal to the bankruptcy trustee on Wednesday.

Katie Johnston can be reached at kjohnston@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @ktkjohnston.
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