ST. PETERSBURG — Tampa Bay Rowdies owner Bill Edwards hopes to one day join Major League Soccer. But before he joins a new soccer league, he has filed suit against his old one.
Edwards is suing the North American Soccer League for fraud, claiming he never would have bought the Rowdies if he had known about a "criminal conspiracy" involving the league.
The lawsuit, filed in Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court on Thursday, seeks to void any agreements with the NASL and asked for Edwards to be awarded costs and damages. The team left the NASL in 2016 and started playing in the United Soccer League this year.
Edwards' suit said that the NASL failed to disclose "a massive racketeering conspiracy, money laundering, wire fraud . . . and more than $150 million in bribes tainting the League, its officials and a major shareholder."
Edwards and his firm TBR Holdings also sued Aaron Davidson, the former president of Traffic Sports USA, which played a key role in the formation of the league and handled marketing and TV and radio broadcast rights.
A 2015 Department of Justice investigation found massive corruption involving FIFA and spanning more than two decades.
The lawsuit said the criminal activities of Traffic Sports "tainted the League and substantially damaged the reputation of the League and its members."
Edwards said Davidson and others never disclosed the criminal activity during a November 2013 meeting where they persuaded Edwards to buy a controlling interest in the Rowdies. Edwards' company, TBR Holdings, bought the rights to the Tampa Bay Rowdies in 2008 and moved the team to St. Petersburg, joining the NASL a year later.
"Edwards would not have purchased the Rowdies . . . or otherwise had any dealings with the League had he known of the criminal conspiracy involving Traffic Sports," the lawsuit states.
Neither Edwards nor the NASL responded to requests for comment Friday.
Davidson, the former Traffic Sports USA president, was one of a handful of Americans convicted in the world soccer corruption case and pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy and wire-fraud conspiracy charges. He admitted to negotiating and paying more than $14 million in bribes to soccer officials on behalf of Traffic Sports. He agreed to forfeit more than half a million dollars.
Edwards wants the court to void his agreements with the NASL and declare TBR Holdings is entitled to 23 percent of the money paid to Traffic Sports after Sept. 23, 2015.