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Lawsuits seek $80M from failed sweetener plant

Lawsuits seek $80M from failed sweetener plant

January 15th, 2014 in News

MOBERLY (AP) - A federal bankruptcy trustee has filed a new round of lawsuits seeking nearly $80 million from former officials with Mamtek, the company behind a failed plan to build a Randolph County sweetener facility.

Trustee Bruce Strauss filed several lawsuits last week seeking actual damages of $72 million and punitive damages, alleging a fraudulent scheme by the company's leaders, the Columbia Daily Tribune reported Tuesday. The suits also are asking for repayment of $7 million received by former Mamtek officers and agents.

The city of Moberly issued $39 million in bonds in 2010 to finance the proposed plant, which promised 600 jobs for the town. Mamtek missed a bond payment in 2011, and Moberly let the bonds default, fueling the company's collapse. Strauss was appointed trustee for Mamtek after the company filed for involuntary bankruptcy in late 2011.

Mamtek claimed to own a patented process for making the artificial sweetener sucralose at a Chinese factory. The company did not own such a patent.

The company was marketed by Tom Smith, a former Missouri National Guard officer and spokesman, and former Gov. Bob Holden, who was chairman of the U.S. Midwest-China Association. Smith is named as a defendant, but Holden is not.

Smith and his company, Capital Business Development Associates, are being sued for $39 million, punitive damages and about $922,000 in fees he was paid. Smith, who now lives and works in Alexandria, Va., did not respond to a phone message from the Associated Press.

The lawsuit against Smith alleges that he, as project manager, participated in preparing fraudulent invoices for Ramwell Industrial Inc., which was to oversee construction of the factory. The company never legally existed, and all the money drawn from the bond fund based on its invoices was improperly used, according to the lawsuits.

Strauss also is seeking $33 million from Los Angeles attorney Stephen Peden and the two firms he worked for while handling Mamtek's legal business, as well as punitive damages and the return of nearly $90,000.

Peden declined comment when reached by the AP, saying he had not seen the lawsuit.

Peden's Beverly Hills office was listed as Mamtek's business address when the company was formed. The lawsuit alleges that Peden ignored a warning from Rena Gordon, chief operating officer of Mamtek, that the company had misrepresented itself to obtain money from Moberly. Gordon resigned Oct. 1, 2010, when she became convinced Peden and company officers were ignoring her concerns.

"I cannot continue to work in an environment where Mamtek is using funds obtained through misrepresentations and continues to proceed with knowledge of these serious issues," she wrote, according to the lawsuit against Peden.

A third lawsuit name Perkins Coie, a law firm that worked for the affiliated company Mamtek International. The final lawsuit names David Ho, a former senior vice president; Johnson Liu, a stockholder in Mamtek International; and the Mamtek Group, a parent company that received wire transfers from Mamtek US Inc. Perkins Coie did not respond to an interview request from the Columbia Daily Tribune.

Strauss' effort to recover money for creditors has included a lawsuit against former Mamtek CEO Bruce Cole, a settlement to obtain $450,000 from former Mamtek treasurer Alissa Roston, and an auction of manufacturing equipment.

Cole is fighting a $1.3 million judgment, handed down in December by a federal bankruptcy judge. Cole also faces a criminal trial on five felony charges scheduled for June and is a defendant in other Mamtek-related lawsuits. The company's collapse triggered nearly 20 legal actions in 10 venues.