Cheese Magnate Chewed Up Bologna Soccer Club Deal

     MANHATTAN (CN) – An attorney who orchestrated the sale of the Bologna Football Club was forced out of his ownership shares and axed as its president by a cheese magnate-investor from Canada, he says in a $5 million lawsuit.
     Joseph Tacopina sued Joey Saputo in Manhattan Supreme Court on Thursday.
     Saputo had agreed to invest in the purchase of the Bologna Football Club in December 2014 to replace Saputo as the majority owner.
     “Because soccer has always been a passion” for Tacopina, he pulled together a team of investors to buy the club, according to the complaint.
     One of those investors was Saputo, a wealthy businessman from Montreal and heir to his father’s cheese empire, Saputo Inc.
     Tacopina said the two talked several times before hammering out the deal, and that he devoted “countless hours to seeing that vision come to life.”
     The sale of the ball club closed in October 2014, giving Tacopina the majority interest at 62 percent, while Saputo’s company Free 2 Be Holdings, owned 25 percent. The rest was owned by minority investors.
     But a dispute began to “percolate almost immediately,” according to the complaint. Saputo wanted majority control, the complaint states.
     After much negotiating, a new deal was reached last December that gave Saputo and his company majority ownership for 15 million euro.
     It was also agreed that Saputo would fund Tacopina’s portion of the investment.
     The agreement also stated that Tacopina would become president of the football team with an 800,000 Euro base salary, plus a 400,000 euro, performance-based bonus for two years. Tacopina, who lives in Connecticut but practices law in New York City, agreed to work without pay for the first year, he says.
     But the deal quickly went sour and Saputo sought to use his wealth to muscle Tacopina out, according to the 18-page complaint.
     “It is clear that defendant never intended to honor the agreement,” the lawsuit states, “or any of the other commitments he made to Mr. Tacopina, and that his scheme all along was to use his wealth to push Mr. Tacopina out of the [deal] and deprive Mr. Tacopina of his ownership interest in the club.
     Saputo, as the new majority owner, directed Tacopina to fire the /bank backing the financing for the sale, according to the complaint.
     Saputo said, “tell [the bank] to take a hike,” the lawsuit says.
     The team’s cash-flow projection was estimated to bring in 9 million euro this year, the lawsuit states.
     But Saputo then gave other shareholders another projected amount of 12.5 million euro.
     That’s when Saputo began threatening to dilute Tacopina’s ownership percentage in his quest to wrest control of the Serie B team.
     In fact, Saputo showed no interest in the team, and stated, “you know what, I’m not fucking putting in money for players, we’ll stay in Serie B, I don’t give a fuck,” and “I don’t know half the fucking players, if you tell me who’s number nine, I won’t fucking know,” the lawsuit states.
     Then in January, Saputo said, “I’m changing that agreement, whether you, you like it, like it, you don’t, don’t. You want to sue me no problem,” according to the complaint.
     Saputo then threatened to “devalue [Tacopina’s] shares to a point that they are worthless.”
     Tacopina tried to salvage the deal and proposed yet another offer to buy out Saputo’s shares. Saputo declined, according to the lawsuit.
     Saputo then went after Tacopina’s shares “by continuously requiring unnecessary capital calls in amounts significantly greater than what was projected,” according to the complaint.
     Saputo also called back the 15 million euro loan in June, and demanded a 3.6 million euro guarantee be included in the capital call amount even though it was Saputo’s responsibility.
     That forced Tacopina to cover his share of the capital calls without Saputo’s help in breach of the agreement, according to the complaint.
     Saputo also lied about the amounts needed to make the capital calls and presented conflicting dates as to the urgency of when those funds were needed.
     Saputo then told investors that the initial 12.5 million euro capital call would now be increased to 22 million.
     He increased that to 35 million euro in February, according to the complaint.
     Saputo didn’t fund a 16 million capital call in March, or cover Tacopina’s obligation as promised.
     “As a result, Mr. Tacopina’s ownership percentage was purportedly further diluted,” according to the complaint.
     Saputo then demanded that his 15 million euro loan be returned two months after giving it, Tacopina says.
     A few days after Tacopina pressed in an email to be paid for his work as the club’s president, Saputo sent a notice to investors seeking another capital call of 15 million euro, the lawsuit states.
     That caused Tacopina’s ownership to plummet to below 15 percent.
     With his interest level below 15 percent, Saputo’s attorneys told him that their agreement was no longer valid and that he would no longer be the club’s president.
     Tacopina wants $5 million and a temporary restraining order forcing Saputo “to live by an agreement that he bargained for, agreed to and admittedly partially performed.”
     Tacopina is represented by Matthew G. DeOreo with Tacopina & Siegel.

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