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Business lessons from a lawsuit Bill Edwards filed against a former employee

Margie Manning

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Bill Edwards

Here’s one big takeaway from a lawsuit that’s bound to rattle the development community in St. Petersburg —  emails can be retrieved even after they are deleted.

Deleted emails are the basis for the complaint filed by developer Bill Edwards and several companies he owns against Joe Jimenez, a former employee and long-time friend of Edwards.

The complaint, filed Feb. 13 in Pinellas County Circuit Court, accuses Jimenez of engaging in “corporate espionage” and providing confidential information to competitors, primarily Red Apple Group, the New York-based company that plans a $250 million to $300 million development in the 400 block of Central Avenue in downtown St. Petersburg.

A message left on Jimenez’ phone requesting comment was not immediately returned.

Joe Jimenez

Lawsuits contain allegations that have not yet been proven in court.

Jimenez worked for Edwards’ companies in executive positions from May 2010 until Jan. 11 of this year, when he left the company. He was hired as executive director for hospitality and entertainment at Big 3 Entertainment, the company that has a contract with the city of St. Petersburg to operate the Mahaffey Theater. He later was appointed vice president of The Bill Edwards Group, a real estate development firm.

 

After Jimenez resigned, the companies retrieved emails he had deleted, the lawsuit said.

Based on those emails, allegations in the lawsuit include:

  • Jimenez introduced Red Apple Group owner John Catsimatidis to local decision-makers, including city officials, developers, entrepreneurs and investors.
  • Jimenez was involved in an effort to sell the Tradewinds Island Grande Resort in St. Pete Beach to Catsimatidis; that deal did not take place.
  • Jimenez helped Catsimatidis in his successful bid for the property at 400 Central Ave., “stealing the opportunity” from Edwards and causing Jimenez to “neglect his work” for Edwards’ companies.

Those, and other situations detailed in the lawsuit, caused financial harm to Edwards’ companies, the suit contends. [See the full complaint here: Big 3 Entertainment, et al. versus Joseph Jimenez ]

The suit accuses Jimenez of breach of fiduciary duty, breach of a non-compete agreement and violations of Florida’s Uniform Trade Secrets Act. It asks for $20,000 in damages for each breach.

A separate motion asks for a temporary injunction that would keep Jimenez from working for any competitor within 75 miles of St. Petersburg and from divulging confidential information and trade secrets.

A hearing date has not yet been set.

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