Jo-Ann Stores has filed a lawsuit against the owner of the Tampa Tribune that alleges the newspaper fraudulently inflated its circulation figures.
In its 10-page complaint filed Tuesday in Hillsborough Circuit Court, Jo-Ann accused the Tribune of two counts of fraud and one count of unjust enrichment for stating that its circulation exceeded 200,000 in ZIP codes where the retailer advertised.
Citing an "inadvertent disclosure by an employee of the Tampa Tribune" in late 2013, Jo-Ann said the newspaper's circulation figures were "fraudulently and grossly exaggerated and inflated by tens of thousands of customers per week."
John A. Boudet, a lawyer for Jo-Ann Stores, declined to comment about what other evidence the retailer might have, stating that "we're not going to comment on litigation."
Jo-Ann Stores entered into a written agreement with the newspaper to deliver its advertising insert in February 2009 and renewed the agreement in 2010 and 2011.
Jeffrey Gray, chief operating officer for Tampa Media Group, which publishes the Tribune, said the paper was owned by Media General during the time of the alleged activity. In October 2012, Media General sold the paper to Revolution Capital, which operates Tampa Media Group.
"It appears to us that they have named the wrong defendant in this lawsuit," Gray said. "We are perplexed by this lawsuit since we brought this issue to light with the client and have been actively working to resolve this discrepancy. In fact, the client has placed additional advertising with us this morning."
The suit, however, alleges that the Tribune made additional false statements regarding the circulation numbers "on a regular basis each month after expiration of the final contract, from February 2012 until October 2013, when the fraud was discovered by Jo-Ann."
Jo-Ann Stores, based in Ohio, is a specialty retailer that operates more than 750 Jo-Ann Fabric and Craft stores across the country, including eight in the greater Tampa Bay area. The company is seeking damages of more than $100,000 in excessive advertising charges, as well as interest, court costs and attorney's fees.
Ivan Penn can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2332.