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Biz Exec Sues NBA Star Elton Brand

(CN) - An executive says his business collaboration with NBA star Elton Brand was derailed when Brand's business partners stole his professional contacts and slandered him in a "midnight email."

In his complaint in Cook County Court, Robert Mendralla claims the heads of SEO Brand Media, Noel Pili and Cedric Castillo, hired him, exploited his corporate contacts and then fired him. Mendralla claims Brand, a two-time All Star forward with the Philadelphia 76ers, Pili and Castillo offered him a marketing job with Brand's IT services company, SEO Brand, which offers search engine optimization and pay-per-click management.

Mendralla says he has experience marketing IT solutions to Fortune 500 companies, and that Pili and Castillo put him on the payroll as a consultant in June 2008, hoping to capitalize on his book of business.

He claims Brand met with him to discuss maximizing the benefits of Brand's exclusive contract with cable provider Comcast. Under the contract, Mendralla says, Comcast is obligated to "do business with companies owned by Elton Brand if those companies offer services used by" Comcast.

Mendralla says he pitched a broad IT solutions business plan to Brand that suggested an expansion of SEO Brand's range of services to generate more profits from the arrangement with Comcast. Brand bought into the concept and set up a new company, Brand IT, Mendralla says.

Mendralla advertised Brand IT's services in presentations to Blue Cross Blue Shield, Timken and Methode Electronics, according to the complaint. Mendralla claims his access to corporate contacts and familiarity with the marketing process made Brand IT's prospects flourish.

But "jealousy and greed were about to scuttle [Mendralla's] relationship with Brand" and Brand's companies, the complaint states.

Mendralla says Pili and Castro became envious as they watched his "brain-child," Brand IT, "take center stage" in place of SEO Brand. He says Pili and Castillo feared they would lose cash and control as he cultivated his relationship with Brand.

In February 2009, Mendralla says, Castillo deactivated his GoToMeeting online pass code so he couldn't attend an important internet meeting with Comcast executives.

Then, according to the complaint, "at midnight," Castillo sent an email notifying all of Mendralla's contacts that Mendralla had been terminated.

Mendralla claims the email, which allegedly said he was "no longer associated with" Brand's companies, implied that he "must have committed something egregious."

"The next morning, as a result of this 'blast' email, Mendralla received 28 inquiries from his contacts wanting an explanation why this abrupt email would be sent out at midnight," the complaint states.

Mendralla says he tried to re-establish his standing with his old clients, but that it was too late. "The midnight email ... had made him a pariah," his attorneys say.

Mendralla says he was paid $40,000 to build the foundation of what is to be a multi-million dollar company. He says Brand, Pili and Castillo owe him at least $5 million for the 10 percent ownership interest in Brand IT he was promised.

Mendralla's lead attorney, Michael Minton, said in an interview that a lucrative deal between Brand IT and Comcast is in the works and that Mendralla deserves his fair share of the profits.

Minton added that Castillo's email wiped out essentially all of Mendralla's professional relationships, costing Mendralla more than $10 million in lost business opportunities.

Castillo declined to comment on the case.

Mendralla says his career is ruined, while Brand is reaping the financial benefits of their joint venture.

Brand, formerly of the Chicago Bulls and L.A. Clippers, is one of four active NBA players to have a career average of 20 points and 10 rebounds per game. The others are Tim Duncan, Shaquille O'Neal and Kevin Garnett.

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