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NFL Players Can Pursue Lawsuit Against BB&T

(CN) - Sixteen current and former National Football League players can continue their a multi-million dollar lawsuit against the bank they accuse of allowing third parties to make huge, unauthorized withdrawals from their accounts, a federal judge ruled.

The player plaintiffs, who include some of the NFL's biggest names, sued BankAtlantic in October 2013, alleging in some cases that unauthorized bank accounts were opened in their names, and in other cases, that the bank allowed unauthorized withdrawals to be made from legitimate accounts.

Branch Banking and Trust Company is now the named defendant as successor in interest to BankAtlantic.

The players allege BB&T allowed Pro Sports Financial Inc., a financial management firm, to transfer millions of dollars without their authorization, in some cases doing so with the aid of forged documents.

All told, the men say, they collectively lost something in the vicinity of $50 million.

U.S. District Judge Beth Bloom denied BB&T's motion to dismiss the latest complaint after finding most of the plaintiffs' arguments were sound enough to proceed.

The plaintiffs admit they hired nonparty Pro Sports for help with tax planning, business counseling and other "concierge" services. In 2006, Pro Sports deposited millions of dollars into individual accounts at BankAtlantic, a South Florida bank later acquired by BB&T.

The bank was given a client services agreement signed by each athlete to govern the scope of the transactions Pro Sports was authorized to undertake on their behalf.

Despite the specificity of these documents, BB&T allowed "numerous unusual, suspicious and extraordinary withdrawals," the complaint says.

In some cases, Pro Sports employees opened additional accounts by forging a player's signature, it continues.

The plaintiffs also charge the bank permitted CashLink wire transfers that lacked safeguards from fraud and "were not in compliance with internal BB&T procedures."

In one case, the complaint says, a Pro Sports employee named Peggy Lee and a BB&T employee signed off on a transfer, even though Lee did not act as a power of attorney for any of the athletes.

Some of the players' money went to a casino project in Alabama known as County Crossing, which failed after Alabama outlawed casino-style gaming in 2012, the complaint states.

The lawsuit splits the plaintiffs into two groups. Group A - which includes Derrick Gaffney, Frank Gore, Jevon Kearse, Kenard Lang, Ray Lewis, Santana Moss, Clinton Portis, Lito Sheppard and Fred Taylor - are suing over BB&T's negligence in allowing the forged accounts and fraudulent transfers.

The plaintiffs of group B -Jamaal Anderson, Jacob Bell, Tavares Gooden, Santonio Holmes, Brandon Meriweather and Gerard Warren - opened accounts only for bill pay services. However, BB&T permitted several withdrawals that did not fit those types of accounts, which breached a client services agreement, the men claim. Both groups want refunds from the unauthorized transfers as well as punitive damages under Florida law.

This is the plaintiff's third amended complaint. BB&T attempted to persuade Judge Bloom to dismiss the case, arguing the four-year statute of limitations had passed on the negligence count and the plaintiffs could not point to actual provisions in the breach of contract count. Furthermore, the bank's motion states, the plaintiffs are blaming the bank for the actions of the players' financial firm.

Judge Bloom ruled the negligence count and refund requests are not completely barred by the statute of limitations. Although the accounts were opened in October 2006, any unauthorized transfers occurring after Oct 2009 fall within the statute of limitations, she determined.

Judge Bloom did dismiss the breach of contract claim, because the players could not point to actual provisions the bank violated in the client services agreement.

The plaintiffs must now file a fourth complaint.

The athletes are represented by James Toscano of Lowndes, Drosdick, Doster, Kantor & Reed PA.

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