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Defendants remove McHenry County dispute over automatic cocktail maker to federal court

By Jonathan Bilyk | Feb 7, 2014

A McHenry County man who claims to have been on the verge of selling the rights to an automatic cocktail maker he invented is suing his former business partners, claiming they tampered with negotiations with another investor and scuttled a $2 million deal.

It looks like the inventor, however, is going to have to fight his battle in federal court as his former business partners recently removed the suit from McHenry County Circuit Court to Chicago's federal court.

On Jan. 31, attorneys for Nevada-based corporation FW Associates LLC and named defendants Barry Fieldman and Juanita Wasserman filed a notice to remove to the litigation brought against them by inventor and businessman William Metropulos.

To justify the removal, the defendants note that the dispute involves damages that could exceed $2 million – well, in excess of the $75,000 threshold – and involves parties from different states as Metropulos lives in Illinois, Fieldman and Wasserman are citizens of Nevada and FW Associates includes 19 different partners from Nevada, California, Kansas, Pennsylvania and Washington D.C.

Fieldman, Wasserman and FW Associates are being represented by attorneys Mitchell B. Katten and Joshua R. Diller of Katten & Temple LLP in Chicago.

Metropulos is represented by attorneys David G. Trout and Paul C. Downing of David G. Trout & Associates Ltd. in Chicago.

The removal notice comes in response to the suit Metropulos filed Dec. 19 in the McHenry County Circuit Court against FW, Wasserman and Fieldman.

Metropulos claims he invented “a machine which would automatically mix and pour alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages,” an invention he called the “Smartender” in 2009.

In 2011, Metropulos partnered with individuals not named in his complaint to form SmartBar USA LLC to develop and market the Smartender.

SmartBar's website describes the Smartender as "the world's first patented and portable touch-screen bar. Simply plug it in and accurately pour one of over 600 different drinks within seconds!"

The complaint states that by 2012, Metropulos had begun to seek outside investors to help find establishments to place the Smartender, which led him to meet with Fieldman and others associated with FW.

Metropulos alleges Fieldman represented himself at a January 2012 meeting as a “co-owner of the Tilted Kilt restaurant group” and stated he “knew executives at Coca-Cola,” as well as executives at casinos in Las Vegas.

He allegedly told Metropulos that he could use his connections to place the Smartender in all Tilted Kilt restaurants and “in all of the casinos and restaurants” on the Las Vegas strip.

Based on these statements, Metropulos asserts he agreed to sell Fieldman and FW a 10-percent stake in SmartBar.

However, in the months since, the suit asserts FW has “not secured one sale of the Smartender.”

In 2013, Metropulos sought out other investors, and initiated negotiations with the owner of a company identified as Genesis Gaming Solutions Inc., thanks to an introduction brokered by Wasserman, who was a partner in FW.

Metropulos alleges in his complaint that in July, he was nearing completion of a deal to sell his interest in his company to Genesis for at least $2 million.

At that July meeting, the owner of Genesis allegedly told Metropulos he would notify Wasserman of the pending deal.

But, at the next conference with Genesis, the suit states that its owner told Metropulos that “he spoke to Wasserman and was going to back out because he did ‘not want to step on any toes’” and that “Wasserman told him to back out because she would handle the offer.”

The next day, according to the complaint, Wasserman connected Metropulos with another potential investor, but  that investor later lowballed Metropulos, offering in August to buy his share in Smartender “for a fraction of the amount and for worse terms” than had been discussed with Genesis.

Metropulos alleges that investor is believed to be a partner in FW as well.

He claims Wasserman's actions constitute “interference with a prospective business relationship,” as they had the effect of drying up the market for his product, leaving FW with no competition to buy the Smartender, thus allowing them to bid for the rights to the product “at a substantial discount.”

Metropulos’ complaint also alleges fraud against Fieldman.

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