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Tampa CEO accused of using startup funds on escorts, trips and strip club visits

Former Ecover executive says CEO used startup’s money as “personal piggy bank.”
For the latest breaking news, check tampabay.com
For the latest breaking news, check tampabay.com [ Tampa Bay Times ]
Published Oct. 19, 2020
Updated Oct. 20, 2020

TAMPA — A medical technology startup company’s CEO is accused of misusing more than $400,000 in company funds on escorts, strip clubs and personal expenses from gifts to Uber Eats, according to a lawsuit filed by one of the company’s minority stakeholders.

Ecover Global, which runs an app to help doctors share messages with patients before and after surgery, was accepted into a mentoring program by startup nonprofit Tampa Bay Wave last year. CEO Raymond “Ben” Sever, 28, was seeking investor funding earlier this year. During a pitch night hosted by Tampa Bay Wave in January, he told potential investors the company had already raised $700,000 and was valued at $35 million.

Sever’s former best friend and business partner, Brandon Bowen, 28, filed a lawsuit late last month that says the CEO misappropriated hundreds of thousands of dollars from June 2019 to June 2020.

“Sever has used Ecover as his personal piggy bank to live on,” Bowen wrote to the board of directors in June.

Bowen, Ecover’s former vice president, was encouraging board members to look into Sever’s spending habits, which the lawsuit says the board never did. Bowen, who has a 10 percent stake in the company, took it upon himself to investigate with an attorney, the lawsuit says.

Related: Here’s how Tampa’s startup community has been affected by COVID-19

Bowen’s attorney declined to comment on behalf of his client when reached by a reporter. A spokesman for the Tampa Bay Wave said the company had already graduated from its accelerator program and no longer has direct ties to the non-profit.

“Ecover’s company values are important to it above all else,” Sever’s attorney, Sarah Glaser, said in a statement. “They have full faith in the court system and look forward to the truth coming out in court.”

The lawsuit — one of two Bowen has filed against Sever — says the two had a blow-up in May. Bowen says he was confronting Sever about his spending habits. The next day, the suit says Bowen was terminated from the company.

Bowen’s lawsuit includes a series of expense reports and text messages he says shows Sever’s regular misuse of the startup’s funds such as:

  • Nearly $30,000 paid to nine different women, including one who got $12,000 total
  • $17,000 in ATM withdrawals that was used to cover liquor and visits to Thee Dollhouse strip club
  • More than $12,000 put toward his personal rent
  • $64,000 spent on non-businesses expenses, including thousands spent on Uber, Uber Eats, Postmates and Lyft
  • More than $5,000 used to purchase gifts for family members

Bowen is suing for more than $400,000 in damages on behalf of minority owners in the company. Sever has an 80 percent stake in the company, the lawsuit says.

Bowen wrote in his letter to the board that he believed the transaction records he obtained showed only a “small part of Sever’s wrongful conduct."

Sever recently joined the AdventHealth Carrollwood Foundation board of directors and markets himself as an industry disruptor offering public speaking, performance coaching and new venture consulting.

Ecover announced its advisory board in July, which includes a Tampa Bay Wave cohort director and Harvard researcher.

Editor’s note: This story was updated to reflect the Tampa Bay’s Wave relationship to Ecover.