TAMPA — One of the bay area's most promising energy companies has become embroiled in an ugly split with the founding engineer who helped bring NexLube Tampa here.
Enzio D'Angelo, 58, the former chief operating officer of NexLube Tampa, filed suit Tuesday against the company in Hillsborough County circuit court. He alleged that NexLube Tampa intentionally pushed him out of the company, broke its contracts with him and cheated him out of compensation and a share of the company. He was suspended on Aug. 20, banned from the premises and then fired on Sept. 16, according to the lawsuit.
NexLube Tampa alleged that D'Angelo sexually harassed and created a hostile environment for female employees, undermined and bad-mouthed management and created a "poor working environment and working conditions," according to the termination letter.
D'Angelo's attorney, Mark Osherow, responded in a letter to NexLube on Monday denying the allegations against his client. D'Angelo owned 1.25 percent of NexLube. By dismissing him, the attorney said, NexLube intentionally denied D'Angelo an additional 2.75 percent stake in the company.
"It is abundantly clear from the assertions made by NexLube that the purported termination is a vindictive action," Osherow wrote.
NexLube alleged that D'Angelo "only wanted to hire young women" and allegedly called chairman of the board Malone Mitchell III a "crook" who "stole the idea of the Tampa plant." Mitchell is the founder of the Texas-based Riata Corporate Group, NexLube's corporate parent.
NexLube president Monte Bell wrote in the Sept. 16 termination letter that the company had also discovered financial improprieties involving D'Angelo but did not detail them. Osherow wrote that those allegations were "meritless" and "potentially defamatory."
D'Angelo demanded that the company give him a 2.75 share in NexLube, pay him the $600,000 he said he's owed and legal fees. A NexLube official on Friday referred the Tampa Bay Times to Riata Corporate Group for comment. That company did not respond to that request.
D'Angelo, a Venezuelan-born engineer, spent years trying to build a state-of-the-art oil re-refinery in the Western Hemisphere. D'Angelo wanted to make technical-grade white oil, the purest form of oil possible. It's a lucrative, nontoxic oil used to make food and hygienic products.
But he also wanted to build an environmentally friendly facility that would produce few emissions or waste products. Five years ago, D'Angelo got financial backing from the Riata Corporate Group and together they built NexLube. In 2012, NexLube signed a 20-year lease with the Port of Tampa to build a $120 million plant. The re-refinery is set to open next year.
D'Angelo was traveling on Friday and said he could not comment until next week. In an interview with the Times in July, he explained how much the project meant to him.
"This is the culmination of my entire career," D'Angelo said. "At the end of the day, it's still a refinery. But it's a refinery that will do a cleaner job than anyone else."
Jamal Thalji can be reached at (813) 226-3404, firstname.lastname@example.org or @jthalji on Twitter.