Make us your home page

As feds demand Savtira fix employee back pay, questions about its survival

TAMPA — Consider this a cautionary tale.

A local company emerges on the promise of a new technology and lots of jobs. The company garners millions in government incentives and some big local industry awards.

Less than two years later, it can't pay its employees. The Labor Department is investigating. The whole mess is rekindling the troubled past of the company's founder and top executive. In response, he claims the company is "at war," fighting evil investors and even some ex-employees trying to bankrupt the company and then buy it on the cheap.

It wasn't supposed to be this way for Ybor City-based Savtira Corp.

On Monday, federal labor officials notified the company that it was violating fair labor standards. It faces potential fines and possible court action if it does not make good on back pay owed its employees.

Worse, Savtira's angry workers — some owed thousands of dollars — and the company's troubling performance are reviving concerns about past reported problems with several troubled or failed companies run by Savtira founder and chief executive officer Timothy Roberts.

At least three companies — Broadband Infrastructure Group in St. Louis and, later, Infinium Labs and Gamestreamer, both in Sarasota — faced lawsuits, a Securities and Exchange Commission sanction for a stock scheme or failure after raising tens of millions of dollars from investors.

In Tampa, leaders looked at Savtira as an emerging hotshot to celebrate. In November, the Tampa Bay Technology Forum, the region's tech-promoting organization, named Savtira its "emerging technology company of the year." And Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn called the company "one of Tampa's success stories."

Savtira convinced state and local leaders of its bright future to win $2.65 million in incentives if it can create 265 jobs with high wages.

That now seems unlikely. Savtira's staff has diminished from more than 100 to 63 in recent months. Many have fled to other jobs and steadier paychecks or were callously fired by text message over a weekend.

Yet Savtira arrived with a big splash just as Tampa Bay's forlorn economy searched for positive business news. The company won converts — including many of the people it hired, lured by bigger salaries — a bit too quickly and without a closer look.

The company designs e-commerce platforms for businesses selling goods and digital products such as music over the Internet. It started missing payroll and caught the Department of Labor's attention in January. Now some employees are owed four to six weeks of back pay, and some managers who agreed to join at the start-up and work initially for 25 percent of their compensation (supposedly to be repaid when the company began to make money) have never been reimbursed.

At the heart of Savtira's puzzling trajectory is the mercurial Roberts. He's described as a consummate salesman who's bigger on hype than on substance when it comes to company products that work and funding sources that deliver.

In an interview Monday evening, Roberts, 42, painted a more positive image. He insisted Savtira will survive but acknowledged it's hitting a rough spot. And weak fundraising hurt cash flow, which in turn hurt the ability to meet payroll.

The real culprit, Roberts claimed, is a group of "greedy investors and some ex-employees" that are bad-mouthing Savtira, hurting its ability to raise new money and persuade customers to buy the company's products.

"It's been a lot of dirty tricks," Roberts said. He wouldn't identify his opponents but said the company is preparing to file suit in court. "It's a true battle. We are at war, and they are invading the castle."

Roberts also lamented the difficulty of building a start-up in Florida, as much as he appreciates the local support. He said, "There are times I kick myself and wish I had started the company in California," where investors are more plentiful and can simply hop into a car to visit the company.

On Monday, Roberts also commented on the Labor Department's demands in an email to Savtira staffers. "We have our hands forced and will have to involuntarily send everyone home until we complete our funding and catch up on the outstanding pay."

Roberts often sends emails to defend late payrolls that say something very similar to "the check is in the mail."

In one update, a Roberts email said that British investor "Sir Michael Marshall is making a wire for 500K today." In another, Roberts told staffers that "Terry/Joe/Todd are at the factoring company closing on 500K dollars right now. They are racing to get money in bank today and cut payroll."

For now, the tale of Savtira differs dramatically, whether Roberts or many of his distraught workers have the microphone. Can this company be saved?

Times staff writer Danny Valentine contributed to this column. Robert Trigaux can be reached at or at (727) 893-8405.

As feds demand Savtira fix employee back pay, questions about its survival 04/16/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 17, 2012 12:20am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Ousted to political Siberia by Corcoran, Kathleen Peters sets sights on Pinellas Commission

    State Roundup

    TALLAHASSEE — The perks of power in Tallahassee are a coveted chairmanship, a Capitol office in a prime location and a prominent seat on the House floor. Now Rep. Kathleen Peters has lost all three, but here's the twist: Her trip to "Siberia" might actually help her reach the next step on the Tampa Bay political …

    Rep. Kathleen Peters, R-South Pasadena, has been relegated to the back row in the State House chamber, moved to a fouth floor office and stripped of her job as chairwoman of a House subcommittee after a series of disagreements with House Speaker Richard Corcoran. [SCOTT KEELER | Tampa Bay Times]
  2. UPS relocates express operations from St. Pete-Clearwater to TIA


    TAMPA — United Parcel Service Inc. is switching airports for its express air operations. Beginning in October, UPS will relocate from St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport to Tampa International Airport.

    Beginning in October, UPS will move from St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport to Tampa International Airport. [Associated Press file photo]

  3. Richard Corcoran takes aim at public financing of campaigns

    State Roundup

    TALLAHASSEE — House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, may not be running for governor — not yet anyway — but his latest idea will get the attention of those who are.

    House Speaker Richard Corcoran wants the Constitu?tion Revision Commis?sion to ask voters to repeal the state’s system of partial financing of statewide elections.
  4. Related Group breaks ground on complex at old Tampa Tribune site

    Real Estate

    TAMPA — When Miami developer Jorge Perez first eyed a 4.2-acre tract on the west bank of the Hillsborough River two years ago, people asked him if he wouldn't prefer to build on the opposite side closer to the downtown core.

    No way.

    From left, Related Group executive associate Arturo Penaa, Jorge Perez, center, founder and CEO of the Related Group, Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Steve Patterson, the President of Related Development dig their shovels  during the groundbreaking ceremony of the 400 unit Riverwalk Manor apartment complex on site of the old Tampa Tribune building on Wednesday. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times]
  5. Eat 3-course meals for $35 at these 100 restaurants for Orlando's Magical Dining Month

    Food & Dining

    In the early 1900s, hotels offered "table d'hote" or "prix fixe" menus as a form of loss leader. Hotels didn't necessarily make money on these lower-priced, multi-course meals, often served at communal tables, but they made up for it on the booze. Prohibition may have contributed to a gradual shift toward a la carte …

    Bulla Gastrobar serves a variety of Spanish and Portuguese dishes.