LOS ANGELES (CN) - A woman demands $5.5 million from Todd White, the former lead artist on "SpongeBob Squarepants," claiming he hired a bunch of thugs to attack and rob her, then took over her art gallery in Huntington Beach.
Margaret Howell, owner of The Gallery HB at the Hyatt Regency in Huntington Beach, says that White, "in a thankless fit of greed," hired at least four men to attack her so he could take control of the gallery that exhibits his work.
"Despite White's string of professional successes ... his true nature was revealed on the night of August 2, 2011, when he orchestrated a malicious and brutal assault and robbery against the very woman who helped him launch his career in studio art," Howell says in her Superior Court complaint.
Howell claims the hired thugs met her at the gallery and pretended they were interested in buying White's art.
She says that White's attorney Keith Davidson, and his "agent and martial arts sparring partner" Bryce Eddy were there too, along with other martial arts experts. "The other men were 'hired muscles,' martial arts experts retained by White or his representatives, whose purpose was to physically assault and intimidate Ms. Howell," the complaint states. Davidson and Eddy are both named as defendants. She says the identities of the other men "will be ascertained through discovery and a review of hotel security videos."
Howell says that at about 6 p.m. on Aug. 2, "these defendants, acting on White's behalf, entered the Gallery while Ms. Howell was alone. They forcibly shut down the Gallery, physically assaulted Ms. Howell, emotionally traumatized her, and wrongfully and unlawfully imprisoned her in her office for long hours by force. They threatened her with severe physical harm if she did not comply with their demands."
She claims that more men arrived, and that "over the course of the night, the intruders forcibly stole more than one million dollars' worth of White art that belonged to the Gallery and FACS [plaintiff Fine Art Consulting Services, which Howell owns]. Additionally, Eddy, Davidson, and the unknown assailants forcibly stole large quantities of original business documents from the gallery, including certificates of authenticity, customer lists, and sales and inventory records."
Howell says the men stole the confidential customer list so White could bypass her and sell his art directly to collectors.
"Because Howell has no desire to sell the gallery or reveal her customer list, White had to resort to nefarious means to achieve his objective," Howell claims.
She claims the final defendant, Peter M. Lavoie, an employee of the Gallery, downloaded and copied the customer without authorization. "Just weeks before the events of August 2-3, 2011, Lavoie abruptly terminated his employment with the Gallery. On information and belief, Lavoie is now employed by White and has provided him with the customer list," according to the complaint.
After rifling through her records and stealing art from the Gallery, Howell says, "the intruders learned that she had several hundred thousand dollars' worth of White artwork at her residence. By physical force, threat of severe bodily harm, and infliction of severe emotional trauma, the intruders forced Ms. Howell to take them back to her home, where they removed and stole this additional artwork belonging to the Gallery and FACS.
"Before leaving Ms. Howell at approximately 3:30 a.m. on the morning of August 3, defendants, including Davidson and Bryce, informed Ms. Howell that White was 'taking over' the Gallery and that she had until August 16 to vacate the premises. They instructed her that if she failed to comply, or if she reported the night's events to the police, she and her family would be physically harmed and that 'her life as she knew it would be over.'
"Later on August 3, White or one of his agents faxed a letter purporting to be from Ms. Howell to the Hyatt Regency, stating that Ms. Howell would be abandoning her lease, vacating the premises on or about August 16, 2011, and assigning the Gallery to White or one of his representative. Ms. Howell never authorized such letter, and signed it only out of fear for her life."
Howell says she reported the robbery to the Huntington Beach police on Aug. 3, "and sought medical attention for her injuries and hospitalization for her severe emotional distress."
She claims that for the past 2 weeks, "White and Bryce have been using plaintiffs' confidential customer lists to contact Gallery customers and make false statements and misrepresentations, including that Ms. Howell was abandoning the Gallery and that White was taking it over. In addition, Davison called Hyatt personnel making false representations of duplicate sales and improper record keeping on the part of Ms. Howell, the Gallery and FACS in an effort to disrupt plaintiffs' relationship with the Hyatt.
"In light of defendants' vicious, brutal and outrageous conduct, Ms. Howell lives in profound fear of her personal safety and that of her family. She has suffered physical injuries and massive emotional distress, her business relationships have been severely disrupted, and more than $1.5 million in artwork has been stolen from her two companies."
She seeks at least $5.5 million in compensatory and punitive damages, and an injunction prohibiting White from using the customer list.
After working on "SpongeBob Squarepants," White became official artist for the 2007 Grammy Awards and was commissioned to paint a memorial painting of Princess Diana.
Howell claims that defendant attorney Davidson is "presently on three years of post-suspension disciplinary probation with the State Bar of California."
Howell is represented by Jonathan Jenkins of Marina Del Rey.