CAMERON PARK, Calif. (CN) — A cockroach may have no inherent value, but what if an employee steals 2 million of them to start a competing business? That's the claim in a lawsuit in Northern California, which also seeks damages for the value of the roach droppings.
Robert Riesenman raises and sells Blaptica dubia cockroaches to feed his bearded dragon lizards. As any cockroach rancher will tell you, probably, Blaptica dubia "are generally accepted in the reptile raising and breeding industry as better feeders for reptiles than other insects, such as crickets or mealworms." Reisenman makes the distinction in his lawsuit, filed on Oct. 25 in El Dorado County Court.
Customers can by Riesenman's roaches online from his website dubideli.com. "In the dubia roach industry," the complaint states, "a customer ordinarily patronizes only one seller, and established business relations between customers and sellers normally continue unless interfered with."
The lead defendant to Reisenman's suit is his former longtime friend and employee John Baser. Basers' wife and her son, as well as another former Dubi Deli employee, are also named as defendants, accused of misappropriation of trade secrets, conversion, wrongful detention of personal property and unfair business practices.
The trade secrets are Reisenman's superior colony design and efficient breeding techniques that allow him to fill large orders quickly, plus his high-protein recipe for Roach Chow, which helps the little critters grow.
"Our customers are hobbyists, reptile breeders, resellers, zoos and pet shops," Riesenman said in an email forwarded by his attorney. He said the Blaptica dubia originated in South America.
Riesenman claims that John Baser worked for him for eight years, than asked to be gifted a 50 percent ownership interest in the business.
When Riesenman refused, he says Baser and his wife were upset enough to start a competing business. In two months, according to the complaint, the Basers, her son and another employee stole more than 2 two million roaches, Dubi Deli's confidential customer list, the secret "Roach Chow" formula and 2 tons of agriculturally marketable roach droppings.
They set up a competing website, announcing a launch date of Jan. 1, 2017, for their new business, Roach King, according to the complaint.
"The relief we're seeking would prevent that launch," Riesenman's attorney Greg Johnson said in a phone interview. "The court did issue a temporary restraining order to prevent them from destroying, selling or moving the roaches until such time as the judge can decide whether to issue a preliminary injunction which would remain in place for the pendency of the case."
The defendants did not respond to an email sent through the Roach King website Wednesday.
Riesenman seeks compensatory and punitive damages, disgorgement or royalties, injunctive relief, costs of suit and attorneys' fees.
Johnson is with Lewis, Brisbois, Bisgaard & Smith in Sacramento.
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