MANHATTAN (CN) - After Food Network star Paula Deen and her family agreed to do a 10-city tour with Celebrity Chefs Tour, the promoter bounced a $150,000 check and sent "bogus" wire transfer instructions, Deen claims in Federal Court.
And she says the promoters defamed her by telling a reporter that the Deens backed out of the tour after receiving "full payment in advance."
Paula Deen Enterprises and Deen Brothers Enterprises signed an agreement in December 2009 to participate in a series of live cooking demonstrations organized by Celebrity Chefs Tour, according to the complaint. The events were to run between February and May 2010, featuring Paula; her sons, Bobby and Jamie Deen; and her husband, Michael Groover.
Celebrity Chefs Tour owed a deposit of $150,000 immediately upon signing of the tour agreement, but Georgia-based Deen Enterprises claim the promoters delayed the payment and then bounced a check.
"Although the plaintiffs were entitled under Section 7(d) of the Tour Agreement to terminate the Tour Agreement immediately after the $150,000 deposit went unpaid, they continued to work in good faith with CCT on the planning of the events," the complaint states. "As the first two events, scheduled for Charlotte and Durham on February 20-21, 2010, drew near, plaintiffs sent CCT multiple written demands for both the deposit payment, and the payments owed for upcoming events."
Celebrity Chefs Tour and Promark Productions, California companies owned by Gary Ravet, were contracted to pay the Deens up to $130,000 for each event, according to the complaint. Half of each payment was due 10 days before a scheduled event, with the other half due upon completion.
Deen Enterprises says it first received a bounced check and then "bogus" wire instructions from Celebrity Chefs Tour and Promark. It finally received a valid wire transfer for $100,000 on behalf of CCT, but that "was well short of the $250,000 owed by CCT to the plaintiffs," according to the complaint.
The "fraudulent" behavior of the tour promoters and the allegedly shady history of its owner "caused plaintiffs great concern."
Deen Enterprises claims that Gary Ravet was a California attorney who resigned from the bar in 2003 with charges pending after being suspended in 1997 for incompetence, conveying incorrect information to the court and failing to pay sanctions for discovery abuse.
"After plaintiffs properly terminated the tour agreement, CCT and defendant Promark Publications LLC engaged in a campaign to publicly smear plaintiffs' good name and reputation, making false and disparaging statements regarding plaintiffs to various members of the press, injuring plaintiffs' professional reputations, and thereby defaming plaintiffs," according to the complaint.
The Deens claim CCT and Promark "continued to publicly move forward with preparations for the tour dates, purposely inducing local event sponsors to rely on defendants' actions to their detriment."
Celebrity Chefs Tour accepted a $130,000 deposit from the local event sponsor in Charlotte, which it falsely claimed to have forwarded to Deen Enterprises, according to the complaint.
Even though the promoters knew the Deens would not attend the North Carolina events, Celebrity Chefs Tour claimed it needed to reschedule because of poor ticket sales, according to the complaint.
Deen Enterprises also claims that Promark spokeswoman Melinda Kruyer told a Herald-Sun reporter that Paula Deen was backing out of the tour even though "Ms. Deen has received full payment in advance."
Deen Enterprises says Promarks' statements have been broadcast on Facebook, Twitter and blogs, damaging the Deens' reputation.
"The statements suggest that plaintiffs are dishonest and that they wrongly terminated the Tour Agreement after receiving all payments due," according to the complaint. "As a result, the false statements are continuing to spread throughout the public rumor mill, thereby further injuring plaintiffs."
The plaintiffs seek $1.25 million in damages, alleging breach of contract and defamation. They are represented by Jennifer Heil with Olshan Grundman Frome Rosenzweig & Wolosky.