Sunday, June 24, 2018
News Roundup

Orlando tour company sues organizers of Bollywood awards in Tampa

TAMPA — An Orlando travel company is suing Dr. Kiran Patel and the Mumbai-based organizers of the Bollywood film awards, complaining it was frozen out of the gala's business after helping bring the event to Tampa.

Akarsh Kolaparth and his family's company, 7M Tours, contend they worked for three years to bring the International Indian Film Academy's awards to the United States, spending $265,000 along the way.

The suit contends that Patel and Wizcraft International Entertainment shoved Kolaparth aside when it appeared that the April 26 awards show and related events would make more money than organizers first expected.

Kolaparth's company, which has 11 employees in Orlando and six in India, was promised a share of IIFA revenue, according to the lawsuit filed in New York, where court pleadings say Wizcraft maintains an address and bank account. It seeks more than $7 million in damages.

"They need to pay these bills," Kolaparth, 37, said in an interview. "They cannot just take us for a ride. It is not fair."

Kolaparth's complaints are without merit, Wizcraft said in a statement released Monday.

"The claims made by Akarsh/7M Tours in the matter are false and frivolous," Wizcraft director Sabbas Joseph said. "It is a concocted story lacking any substance. Since the matter is sub judice, we shall respond to these claims appropriately before the court."

Patel did not return messages to his cellphone and home Friday. In response to AVI's lawsuit last week, he declined to comment on pending litigation.

The New York lawsuit is separate from a suit filed last week in Hillsborough Circuit Court by Tampa-based communications tech company AVI-SPL.

That suit contends Patel and his brother-in-law, Chetan "Jason" Shah of Lutz, told AVI that their Go Bollywood host committee had the authority to promise an almost $11 million contract to produce the awards and related events, but later reneged. Go Bollywood also is a defendant in the New York suit.

Kolaparth said he started thinking of trying to bring the IIFA awards to the United States after watching the televised awards ceremony held in Macau, China, in 2009. After making contact with a Wizcraft subsidiary at a travel industry event in London, he said talks eventually started with Wizcraft executives.

In 2011, with Orlando as the prospective host city, Wizcraft co-founder Andre Timmins wrote Kolaparth, saying "we endorse you to communicate with the local authorities on behalf" of IIFA, according to a letter included as an exhibit to the suit.

After the focus turned away from Orlando, the lawsuit says Timmins was initially hesitant to consider Tampa. That hesitation faded after Kolaparth's company paid for Timmins and other Wizcraft staffers to visit Tampa Bay and worked to educate local leaders on the value of the event, according to the lawsuit.

In Macau, where IIFA last year announced its selection of Tampa, a Wizcraft executive referred to Kolaparth as "one of us," according to the suit.

Back home in Tampa, a 7M executive was at the Visit Tampa Bay news conference where organizers rolled out the first details of the event. Emails included as exhibits show that Kolaparth was looped in on correspondence with Wizcraft and Visit Tampa Bay.

The lawsuit's exhibits also provide a glimpse into some of the early work that went into IIFA. In 2012, with organizers talking about Orlando, IIFA estimated that putting on the awards weekend would cost $40 million.

Also, a 2013 draft agreement between Wizcraft and the Tampa host committee indicated that the host committee would be responsible for providing $15 million in funding for the event. (Patel has acknowledged that he has committed his own money to help make the IIFA awards happen, though he has declined to say how much.)

The lawsuit asserts Timmins and other Wizcraft representatives promised Kolaparth, as compensation for his help, 3 percent of the first $17.5 million in IIFA revenue, and all revenues above $17.5 million.

But Timmins wrote to Shah in 2013 that the 3 percent commission was to be split between him and Kolaparth. And in a Jan. 20 email included as an exhibit, Timmins wrote Kolaparth that "no deal materialized between Wizcraft and Chetan Shah or Go Bollywood Tampa Bay."

"Subsequently," Timmins added, "this leaves no understanding between Wizcraft and 7M Tours on any kind of fees or payment due towards you."

Kolaparth's suit also says that pursuant to a hotel, travel and tour booking contract that the Go Bollywood host committee signed with his company, 7M booked 1,800 rooms at 45 hotels in the Tampa Bay area and Orlando. A copy of the August 2013 contract is an exhibit to the suit, though Shah's signature notes that it was "subject to final approval from Wizcraft."

But 7M's reservations were for IIFA's originally announced dates in mid June. In December, after high demand for tickets prompted organizers to move the show from the Tampa Bay Times Forum to the larger Raymond James Stadium, the awards were rescheduled for April 23-26.

After that happened, the suit says, Kolaparth and 7M were excluded from preparations, and Wizcraft refused to help it re-book the rooms it had reserved or reduce its $1 million liability for the rooms it booked in June. The suit includes letters to 7M from the Sheraton Tampa East Hotel, St. Petersburg Marriott and Westin Harbour Island — all demanding tens of thousands of dollars owed despite the cancellations.

Wizcraft has told Kolaparth and 7M that it doesn't owe them anything, the suit says.

Times staff writer Aimée Alexander contributed to this report.

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