WEST PALM BEACH (CN) – NFL receiver Terrell Owens claims his Greenberg Traurig attorney encouraged him to invest $2 million in an Alabama entertainment center that included a gaming hall with electronic bingo, which is an illegal gambling operation in Alabama, and a violation of NFL policy. And, he claims, the attorney gave others, with interests adverse to his, control of his $2 million.
Owens claims Greenberg Traurig and Pamela Linden never told him the project was not licensed to operate a casino, and claims that some of his money went to pay other investors and lenders of the underfunded project, many of whom were NFL players.
In his complaint in Palm Beach County Court, Owens says Linden and her firm represented him in many business and real estate transactions since 2006.
He says Linden, who had a power of attorney to handle some of his financial matters, regularly communicated with Owens’ investment advisers, Pro Sports Financial, which is not a party to the case.
In the spring of 2008, Pro Sports introduced Owens to an “investment opportunity involving a real estate, resort, entertainment, dining and gaming project in Alabama, known as ‘The Country Crossing Casino’ (the ‘entertainment project’),” according to the complaint.
Owens says that based on Pro Sports’ representations he agreed to invest and designated Linden as his lawyer for the deal.
The complaint states: “In or about February or March of 2008, Owens’ investment advisers, Pro Sports Financial Inc., (‘Pro Sports’) by and through its agents, Jeff Rubin and Edward Rappaport, advised Owens of the entertainment project and represented to Owens and to Linden that:
“a) the entertainment project was unique to the Alabama/Southeastern region of the United States and would generate unusually high revenue since it contained a gaming hall which would house a for profit electronic bingo component and Pro Sports, with the assistance of the developer of the entertainment project, presented Owens and Linden with an illustration and profit estimates of the earnings that Owens would realize;
“b) the entertainment project was organized by an individual known as Ronnie Gilley and his affiliates and affiliated entities under his direction and control (the ‘project developer’);
“c) in exchange for an initial investment or loan to the entertainment project in the anticipated amount of $2,000,000.00, Owens would receive a fifteen percent rate of return.
“d) if Owens invested his funds in the entertainment project, he would also receive a percentage ownership interest in the entertainment project;
“e) that the required entertainment project papers have been reviewed, would continue to be reviewed and/or prepared by Owens’ existing attorney, Pamela Linden, and she was handling negotiations on Owens’ behalf; and
“f) other NFL players would be members of the entertainment project with Owens.”
Owens says that in March 2008, without his knowledge, Linden set up a limited liability company, TO Miami Group LLC, to handle the investment on his behalf. He says Linden set up similar entities for other NFL players who invested in the project.
Linden, who represented Owens in the transaction, confirmed that the entertainment center was a legitimate business investment, secured by land and other collateral, which was highly profitable due to the gaming component, according to the complaint.
Owens says Linden reviewed all the investment documents but failed to send him copies.
He claims Linden failed to tell him she had organized the TO Miami Group on his behalf, never explained the risks of the investment and forwarded all the information about the project directly to Pro Sports, which refused to provide him with copies of the papers he had signed.
“At all material times hereto, Owens was an active National Football League player, but defendants failed to advise Owens about investment parameters imposed by the National Football League and NFL Players Association rules, regulations and guidelines as they may pertain to the entertainment project,” the complaint states.
Owens adds: “In 2011, Owens became aware that one or more investors in the entertainment project had filed lawsuits against Pro Sports and/or the defendants but was unable to obtain any details. Owens and his representatives contacted the defendants, but the defendants deliberately denied Owens his request for an explanation of the documents and defendants would not give Owens executed copies of any of the documents related to the work performed by Linden on his behalf related to the entertainment project, nor would Linden give Owens an accounting of his funds or deliver the documents of proof of his investment, such as certificates evidencing ownership that she was supposed to receive before approving the release of his funds for the investment. Consequently, Owens was required to retain counsel to assist in obtaining relevant information on the subject investment.”
He says Linden and her firm gave him some information about the investment in an August 2011 phone conference, but their explanations did not match Linden’s previous representations.
And he says Linden claimed she had not acted as his personal attorney in connection with the investment.
“In or about August 2011, Owens was further told by Linden that she would no longer be able to answer questions about his personal interests in the entertainment project or the operating agreements or subscription agreements, loans, investments or collateral of the Country Crossing entertainment project since she denied acting as Owens’ personal counsel and only claimed to be counsel for the entity in which Owens held an ownership interest,” the complaint states.
“In 2011, Owens obtained a portion of a purported offering statement dated as of January 2010, prepared for new investors in the entertainment project, (the ‘subscription agreement’). [The] subscription agreement describes an investment method that contradicts the explanations that Linden gave Owens prior to his approval of the investment. Upon review of the subscription agreement Owens learned that the defendants drafted and approved documents that relinquished any and all control and voting power Owens was promised. It also appears from the subscription agreement that Owens’ monies was commingled with other investor monies and that nearly $29,000,000.00 was released, paid or loaned to the entertainment project developer with defendants’ approval and authorization, even though defendants failed to secure or protect Owens’ interests in the entertainment project.
“The subscription agreement discloses that control over Owens’ investment was transferred to defendants’ other clients, Miami Pro Group LLC, Miami Pro Group Management LLC and Edward Rappaport and Jeff Rubin, whose individual interests are directly adverse to the interests of Owens, in part, since they are apparently paid excessive management fees in the entertainment project, they may have earned commissions or gifts for delivering Owens as an investor to the project developer, they control all of Owens’ rights or ability to decide or control his investment, and they were the parties responsible for managing Owens’ personal investment portfolio while at the same time in direct charge of a company in which Owens apparently invested.”
Owens says the defendants failed to disclose the names of other investors, and that Linden may have held an equity interest in entities related to the investment.
He says the defendants did not tell him that electronic bingo, which was advertised as “the profit center” and the “economic catalyst” of the entertainment project, was illegal in Alabama and not a suitable investment for a professional football player.
He claims Linden and Greenberg Traurig concealed that they had assisted certain Indian tribes in lobbying to prohibit gambling in Alabama.
Owens says the defendants represented other investors in the project and knew the project was undercapitalized and unlikely to be completed. He says the defendants “broke escrow” and used his money to fund other entertainment project entities and pay previous investors and lenders.
And he says the defendants never provided him with a closing statement, or an explanation of the fees he paid, or with membership certificates reflecting his ownership interest.
“Defendants further failed to advise plaintiff that prior to the subject investment transaction, defendants acted as attorneys for Ronnie Gilley and his related entities,” the complaint states. “Gilley was the founder of the entertainment project in Alabama and upon information and belief, in 2011, he pled guilty to corruption charges related to the entertainment project.”
Owens says Linden “omitted disclosing to Owens that she knew that Alabama prohibited the gambling operations contemplated by the entertainment project nor did she suggest or advise him that it was necessary for him to obtain new counsel with regard to his entertainment project investments, so that Owens relied solely upon the information provided to him from defendants’ office as delivered to his advisers at Pro Sports Financial. Owens later learned that defendants failed to disclose to him that the project developer was under investigation and eventually indicted for bribing legislatures related to a gambling bill introduced in the Alabama Legislature in early April 2008.
“After Owens invested over $2,000,000.00 into the entertainment project, in or about January 2010, Owens learned of law enforcement raids at the entertainment project and it appeared at that time that the entertainment project was not capable of being completed as a for profit gaming center and if it only operated as an entertainment and dining project it would not be capable of realizing sufficient income to repay lenders or investors.
“At the time Linden advised Owens on his investment rights, defendants knew or should have known that Owens’ investment was unusually speculative and extraordinarily risky inasmuch as defendants acted as closing agents on various loans and guaranties in the entertainment project; lobbied for anti gambling legislation in Alabama; created simultaneous transfers of other investment or loan money into the entertainment project before Owens approved his investment; the current status of Alabama law prohibited the operations promoted by the entertainment project to investors and lenders like the plaintiff; and that Owens was relinquishing control of his investment to defendants’ other clients whose interests were directly adverse to Owens’.”
Owens seeks damages for professional negligence and breach of fiduciary duty, and an accounting.
He is represented by Michael Simon with Simon & Sigalos, of Boca Raton.