(CN) - A sports services company run by former NHL great Claude Lemieux defrauded an agent of $500,000, tried to steal his employees and interfered with contract negotiations, the agent claims in court.
Canada-based Wintersports Ltd., run by sports agent Ritch Winter, sued 4sports & Entertainment and Lemieux in Los Angeles County Superior Court on Wednesday.
Winter claims that a consulting agreement running from Jan. 2, 2014 to Dec. 31, 2019 stipulates that 4sports will pay Wintersports consulting fees, in exchange for agent services for North American hockey players.
Winter claims he helped 4sports obtain a $500,000 line of credit, which was to be used only for 4sport's North American hockey division and could not be used without the agreement of both Lemieux and Winter.
Winter says in the lawsuit that shortly after it got the line of credit, 4sports drew down the entire $500,000 and sent it to Switzerland "to create the false impression to 4sports' investor[s] that the 4sports North American hockey division was generating greater revenues than it actually was."
Winter believes none of the money was spent on the North American hockey division and says the defendants refuse to provide bank statements and other documents to show where the money went.
He also claims Lemieux tried to lure his employee Kris Sydness away from Wintersports to work for 4sports.
"When plaintiff discovered Lemieux's deceit and addressed the issue to Lemieux, Lemieux advised Messrs. Winter and Sydness that they were to have no contact with 4sports' clients and that if they were contacted by a client they were required to seek Lemieux's direction and permission before responding," the complaint states.
Winter claims Lemieux also breached the contract in an Oct. 1 email that said he will be the main contact for 4sports clients. Winter says the consulting agreement could be modified only by mutual written agreement or by a majority vote of the 4sports Hockey Committee.
He claims Lemieux, who is not a certified agent, met with the general manager of an NHL team during two player negotiations, without Winter's involvement.
"Mr. Lemieux effectively hijacked the negotiations with the NHL team and acted in a manner that only a certified NHL agent is permitted to do," the complaint states.
Winter claims 4sports represented a Western Hockey League owner in the potential purchase of a Swiss team, in violation of NHL Players Association regulations. He says that involvement is a clear conflict of interest because 4sports represents players on the Swiss team.
"This issue could affect 4sports' status as an agent, and could prevent any individual associated with 4sports from being certified in the future as an NHLPA Certified Agent," the lawsuit states.
Wintersports claims that 4sports has not paid any agree-upon consulting fees or expenses. It claims Lemieux told clients it was not in their best interests to deal with Winter, that Winter had bad relationships with certain NHL teams, including the Anaheim Ducks and Edmonton Oilers, and that Winter couldn't get the job done.
"This not only interfered with plaintiff's relationships and prospective economic advantage, it placed 4sports in violation of the NHLPA rules and regulations, as Mr. Winter was the only NHLPA Certified Agent employed by 4sports, and as such nobody else but Mr. Winter was authorized to negotiate contracts on behalf of 4sports clients," the complaint states.
Attempts to contact 4sports for comment were unsuccessful.
Wintersports wants the consulting agreement voided, and punitive damages for fraud, breach of contract, breach of faith and intentional interference with prospective economic advantage. It is represented by Michael D. Holtz, with Lavely & Singer.
Lemieux played 22 seasons in the NHL for the Montreal Canadiens, New Jersey Devils, Colorado Avalanche, Phoenix Coyotes, Dallas Stars and San Jose Sharks. He won the Conn Smythe Trophy, given to the MVP of the playoffs, in 1995 and his 80 career playoff goals are ninth-most in NHL history.
Lemieux may be best known for his devastating hit on Kris Draper of the Detroit Red Wings in the 1996 playoffs, when Lemieux played for the Avalanche. Lemieux hit Draper into the boards from behind, breaking Draper's jaw, nose and cheekbone, which required reconstructive surgery.
The hit, which exemplified Lemieux's reputation as a dirty player, prompted Red Wings player Dino Ciccarelli to say, "I can't believe I shook this guy's friggin' hand after the game," a phrase that has entered hockey lore.
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