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Tampa Bay Rays call lawsuit ‘deceptive,’ ‘inflammatory’ and ‘fraught with error’

The team denied violating the partnership agreement between owners or the terms of the Tropicana Field lease.
Tampa Bay Rays principal owner Stu Sternberg is the subject of a lawsuit filed on Saturday by the team's minority owners.
Tampa Bay Rays principal owner Stu Sternberg is the subject of a lawsuit filed on Saturday by the team's minority owners. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
Published May 25
Updated May 25

ST. PETERSBURG — The Tampa Bay Rays on Tuesday responded to a lawsuit that minority owners filed over the weekend against principal owner Stu Sternberg, alleging he has tried to pry away control of the organization and engaged in secret talks with Montreal investors in 2014 to sell a stake of the team.

Related: Tampa Bay Rays call lawsuit ‘deceptive,’ ‘inflammatory’ and ‘fraught with error’

“We are disappointed that a handful of our limited partners have filed suit. The suit is deceptive and inflammatory and is fraught with error and falsehood. We have abided by the partnership agreement and the Tropicana Field use agreement,” the team’s statement read.

The allegations in the lawsuit could have wide-ranging consequences for both Sternberg and the team. The minority owners who filed suit — Robert Kleinert, Gary Markel, Stephen M. Waters and a trust bearing his name, and the MacDougald Family Limited Partnership, LLLP — collectively own just under 9.6 percent of the team. They seek a jury trial, a receiver to be appointed to review the partnership’s finances, monetary damages and for Sternberg’s company to be expelled as general partner.

Also, on Monday, after the Tampa Bay Times reported on the suit, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman called for Sternberg to “consider relinquishing control” of the team and said the suit “appears to give rise to the question of whether the Rays Organization has defaulted on (Tropicana Field’s) use agreement.”

The Rays are locked into playing home games at Tropicana Field and nowhere else through the 2027 season. The team’s lease of the facility also bars the Rays from even exploring alternatives. An allegation in the suit that Sternberg transferred ownership of the team to a new company under his sole control could also raise concerns about use agreement violations.

The suit adds yet another variable into the city’s endeavor to redevelop the 86-acre Tropicana Field site. Kriseman had hoped to deliver an agreement with his chosen developer to City Council for approval by the end of the year. But Council members said they would not entertain an agreement until after the Rays decide whether they wish to build a new stadium on the property.