Ex-Jets Linebacker Thomas Sues Attorney Over $1 Million

A company owned by former New York Jets linebacker Bryan Thomas sued an Alabama attorney and several of his businesses, claiming he was defrauded of a $1 million investment in a waste-to-energy company.

Thomas is the principal and managing member of Thomas Global Group LLC, which sued Donald V. Watkins, a Birmingham lawyer who owns Watkins Pencor LLC, according to a complaint in federal court in Newark, New Jersey.

Thomas, a Birmingham native, invested $1 million in Watkins Pencor in March 2009 after Watkins gave him “highly optimistic representations regarding the profit potential and low risk of the investment opportunity,” according to the complaint filed Aug. 13.

Watkins represented that former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had joined the board of a Watkins Pencor affiliate and Martin Luther King III was politically promoting Watkins’s business interests, according to the complaint. Four years later, Thomas “has not received back one dollar” and “has not been provided with any information or detail of any kind,” according to the complaint.

On May 15, Thomas’s attorney, Robert Heim, wrote to Watkins demanding the return of the $1 million and “outlining the suspicious representations that Watkins had initially made,” according to the complaint.

Arbitration Demand

In response, Watkins and Watkins Pencor filed a demand for arbitration with the American Arbitration Association, seeking a judgment that they have no duty to refund Thomas his money. In the lawsuit, Thomas claims that he never contractually agreed to arbitration.

Thomas asked in his complaint to have the case heard in federal court and not before an arbitrator, for an accounting of the investment, a constructive trust of $1 million and contractual and punitive damages.

Watkins said the lawsuit “will be vigorously defended,” and he expects it to be dismissed. He seeks an arbitration ruling that he has no obligation to refund the money.

The lawsuit, he said in an interview, is “a desperate attempt to escape a pending arbitration proceeding involving this dispute. There are express provisions in the agreement that bind Mr. Thomas for arbitration.”

The Thomas investment was “in a company that is operating every day and implementing the business plan he agreed to,” Watkins said. “We have projects in development in 45 countries, all of which have been made known to him. He gets regular, detailed stakeholder reports, and an annual report.”

Football Players

Watkins said he met Thomas when he played football at the University of Alabama at Birmingham after his coach introduced them. He also said he has known King all his life.

“I was trying to get him involved as a market development consultant, but we were not able to reach mutually acceptable terms,” Watkins said.

Rice, a native of Birmingham, is a friend, he said.

“She gives me advice from time to time,” Watkins said. “She’s not formally involved. I tried to formally engage her, and she preferred informal friendship and assistance. I wanted her to serve on our board, and she wasn’t interested in being on our board.”

Rice’s chief of staff, Georgia Godfrey, said in an e-mail: “Dr. Rice does not have, nor has she ever had, a formal or informal role with Mr. Watkins or any or his businesses.”

King couldn’t immediately be reached through the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change in Atlanta.

The Jets released Thomas, 34, last year after he had played with the National Football League team since 2002.

The case is Thomas Global Group LLC v. Watkins, 13-cv-04864, U.S. District Court, District of New Jersey (Newark).

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