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Alstott venture looking shaky

Has one of the A-Train's business ventures derailed?

JustLookItUp.com, a commercial search engine co-founded and personally marketed by Tampa Bay Buccaneers legend Mike "A-Train" Alstott, is showing signs of financial distress.

Launched two years ago by Alstott and Clearwater-based Bottom Line Productions, JustLookItUp.com lets consumers search by name or topic for the Web sites of Tampa Bay area businesses. A print version of the database, JustWebsites, was supposed to be mailed to 1-million local households. Alstott and Bottom Line CEO Mike Harter claimed the service would help the bay area economy by encouraging consumers to buy local.

But signs of trouble are mounting:

• Last week, three former employees of Bottom Line Productions sued Alstott, Harter and other project backers for allegedly bouncing multiple paychecks. The plaintiffs include the company's former general manager and comptroller.

• In February, a Pinellas County court gave Bottom Line's landlord permission to take over its 4,200-square-foot premises due to nonpayment of rent. Bottom Line did not respond to the lawsuit.

• An unrelated lawsuit filed last month by a Bottom Line client, Health 4 Wealth Corp. of Largo, accused Harter of misappropriating company revenues for personal use.

Attempts to reach Alstott were unsuccessful Monday. In an e-mail, Harter gave limited responses but said Alstott "no longer has any affiliation with this company and it would be unjust to discredit him and his name in this community."

Harter also took aim at the lawsuit filed by ex-staff members Carl Thompson, Lindsey Carmichael and Gayle Levine. "Carl Thompson was the general manager that wrote the bad checks and Lindsey was the comptroller and assistant to Carl," Harter wrote. "I am shocked that they would open up this can of worms for themselves."

Dianna D. Williams, a JustLookItUp.com investor, defended the project Monday. In an interview, she said the bounced paychecks were an honest mistake. She also accused Bottom Line's landlord of illegally seizing the company's computers and other property and called JustLookItUp.com a "great idea" that merely ran out of capital.

Williams said Bottom Line ultimately printed just 100,000 directories because $1-million in pledged investments fell through at the last moment.

She also criticized the "little brats" who sued Harter, investor Alstott and others last week over unpaid wages. "They were on board until a bump in the road, and when the bump in the road came, they all scattered," Williams said. "These kids don't understand how business works. … They just want to be angry."

Although JustLookItUp.com lists the St. Petersburg Times as a "sponsor/affiliate" of the Web site, Times creative manager Robin Lankton said the newspaper was strictly an advertiser. In a one-year agreement signed in April 2007, the paper paid $10,000 for banner ads and for a half-page ad in JustWebsites.

Scott Barancik can be reached at barancik@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8751.

Alstott venture looking shaky 03/31/08 [Last modified: Monday, November 7, 2011 3:38pm]
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