US Senate Candidate Brannon Defendant In Tech Suit
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — A lawsuit set for trial next week alleges Republican U.S. Senate candidate Greg Brannon and a technology corporation executive misled investors about an opportunity in the mobile phone field.
The two investors suing in Wake County court argue they should have returned to them $250,000 in investments in the now-defunct Neogence Enterprises, plus interest and attorney fees.
Brannon, a Cary obstetrician, is one of several Republicans seeking the May primary nomination and is a tea party favorite. The official candidate filing period begins the same day the jury trial against him and former Neogence CEO Robert Rice is set to begin.
“I’m looking forward to my day in court. I’m confident it will be resolved,” Brannon said in a news release Monday from his campaign. A lawyer representing Rice and Brannon didn’t return a phone call seeking comment. In an early written defense, the attorney denied that one plaintiff relied on Brannon and Rice to decide to invest — citing other records — and that the plaintiffs understood the risks of speculative investments.
The 2012 lawsuit alleges Brannon and Rice successfully pressed plaintiffs Lawrence Piazza and Salvatore Lampuri in emails and conversations to invest in the company in 2010 with false and misleading information. Rice and Brannon, a company board director, said Neogence’s technology had the opportunity to be preinstalled in Verizon smartphones, when in fact Verizon never told company leaders that, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit, first reported by WRAL-TV, said Brannon wrote an April 2012 email to Piazza and existing and potential investors that Neogence’s sales officer had just had a meeting with Verizon in New York. “We need $100-$200K ASAP, in 3-4 weeks we go back to Verizon we have an (opportunity) to be their featured AR,” the email in an affidavit said. AR stands for an “augmented reality” application.
“My clients were told that repeatedly by” Brannon, Steven Epstein, the plaintiffs’ attorney, said in an interview.
Lampuri wrote in an affidavit that Brannon pressed him to invest in Neogence when he visited Brannon’s medical office when Lampuri’s wife got a checkup. Piazza said in an affidavit that in one month in 2010 Brannon spoke by phone with him more than 70 times, the majority of which Brannon urged him to invest more beyond an earlier sum.
Neogence never was able to market any of their technology, according to the lawsuit, and Piazza lost $150,000 and Lampuri $100,000. Piazza asked the company to return his investments, but the company stopped operating, the lawsuit said. Piazza successfully obtained a default judgment against Neogence but didn’t receive the money.
David Kirkbride, another former company director and once acting CEO, originally was named a defendant, but a judge dismissed him from the case based on evidence, Kirkbride attorney Mark Finkelstein said Monday. The plaintiffs also decided to withdraw three of the four claims in the original lawsuit.
The remaining claim alleges Brannon and Rice made “false and misleading representations” that the investors relied upon while receiving promissory notes that could have been converted into company shares.
Other leading Republican candidates in the primary include former state House Speaker Thom Tillis and Charlotte pastor the Rev. Mark Harris. The primary winner is expected to challenge Democratic incumbent Kay Hagan.
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