Businessman and former Tampa Bay Rowdies owner Bill Edwards is suing a longtime friend and employee, claiming the man used his position to secretly help and feed information to a competitor.
In a lawsuit filed Wednesday by three of Edwards’ companies, Big 3 Entertainment, Loan Ranger and the Bill Edwards Group, Joseph Jimenez is accused of supplying inside information to another business group for his own financial gain. The lawsuit was filed in Pinellas County Circuit Court.
Jimenez worked for the various Edwards companies for just under nine years before he resigned in January. Shortly afterward, "the companies learned of Jimenez's treachery," the lawsuit says. He is described in the lawsuit as a "friend" of Edwards' for more than 25 years.
Beyond previously owning the Rowdies, Edwards' companies also developed the Sundial shopping center in St. Petersburg and have ventures in security, music and real estate. According to the lawsuit, Jimenez was involved in all of it.
"Mr. Edwards had complete confidence in the man he considered a friend. Instead, for at least three years prior to filing this complaint, Jimenez engaged in corporate espionage," the lawsuit says.
Attempts to reach Edwards and Jimenez Thursday night were unsuccessful. A lawsuit represents one side’s version of a dispute.
The lawsuit’s central claim is that Jimenez was providing information to John Catsimatidis, the New York billionaire behind Red Apple Group. Red Apple is working to build a tower in downtown St. Petersburg.
According to the lawsuit, Jimenez secretly worked with Catsimatidis and Red Apple to give them access to a number of local movers and shakers to make the firm's development plans go more smoothly. This included people such as members of the St. Petersburg City Council and Bob Glaser, owner of the real estate firm Smith & Associates.
The suit also claims Jimenez helped Red Apple with its application to the St. Petersburg Downtown Partnership and negotiated an agreement with the TradeWinds Island Resorts on behalf of Catsimatidis.
Details of the alleged betrayal were found in emails the lawsuit says Jimenez deleted after he resigned from the companies.
The lawsuit also accuses Jimenez of recruiting Kyle Parks, who was advising one of Edwards' companies, for a public relations campaign to get the public on board with Red Apple's proposed project.
"We would want to tell the family story so that Red Apple is seen as a family, not a faceless company," the lawsuit says, quoting from what it says is an email from Jimenez to Parks.
Attempts to reach Parks and Glaser late Thursday also were unsuccessful.
These actions violated a noncompete agreement Jimenez entered with Big 3 in 2010, the lawsuit says. It prohibited him from working for competitors within a 75 mile radius of the companies' offices and from giving up confidential information or trade secrets.
His actions "put the companies at a competitive disadvantage in pursuing their development business, causing lost profits and lost opportunities," the lawsuit says.
Edwards' companies seek $20,000 for each alleged violation of the noncompete agreement, a permanent injunction requiring Jimenez to adhere to the noncompete agreement, damages and court costs, an injunction preventing Jimenez from divulging the companies' trade secrets and a jury trial.
Contact Malena Carollo at [email protected] or (727) 892-2249. Follow @malenacarollo.