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Jorge Mas Santos’ Cuban American National Foundation, claiming its fund-raising is suffering, is throwing the federal tort book at former employee Mario B. Miranda Sr. for allegedly pirating its famous name. Miranda, a former bodyguard for Mas Santos’ father, the late CANF founder Jorge Mas Canosa, snatched the name last May after the CANF changed its legal name in state records to the Jorge Mas Canosa Freedom Foundation Inc. He’s also sought to register “The Cuban American National Foundation” as a trademark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office — a move Mas Santos’ group has sought to counter by filing a trademark application of its own. In July, Miranda told the Miami Herald that he “rescued” the name after it was “abandoned” by Mas Santos’ widely known, 20-year-old national lobbying group. Now, the original CANF is firing back in U.S. District Court in Miami with a 26-page complaint that seeks to block Miranda from using the name. Filed without public announcement last month, the suit alleges Miranda is a schemer who’s guilty of slander, trademark infringement, trademark dilution, unfair and deceptive business practices, unfair competition, false advertising, and tortious interference with a business relationship. The suit, seeking unspecified damages, has been assigned to U.S. District Judge K. Michael Moore. Spencer A. Emison, a solo practitioner in Miami who represents Miranda, declined comment except to say that settlement talks are under way. Representing the original CANF in the lawsuit are Steven E. Siff, Rolando Sanchez-Medina and Ralf R. Rodriguez of the Miami office of McDermott Will & Emery. They declined comment. New Orleans attorney George Fowler, the original CANF general counsel, confirmed that settlement talks are proceeding and says he expects the matter to be resolved soon. “This was an attempt to discredit the CANF and to hurt it. And it did,” says Fowler, who also runs the CANF’s New Orleans office. “It’s crystal clear the name was never in jeopardy, but the other side certainly did make a show of it.” Asked why Miranda seized the name, Fowler says, “I think this is about egos. [Miranda] was a bodyguard, but perhaps he envisioned himself as some sort of public personality. Nobody rallied to his side.” The litigation follows a tumultuous summer for the anti-Castro group that Mas Santos has chaired since his father died in November 1997. In August, 22 CANF board members resigned in an embarrassing public rift over control of the group’s future and millions of dollars worth of its assets. A few weeks later, the Herald reported that the departures came after the Internal Revenue Service audited CANF for at least four years in an attempt to find out whether the nonprofit group had illegally used tax-exempt donations to pay for its lobbying activities. Fowler says the IRS’s concerns were justified, and as a result the CANF revamped its corporate structure to fix the matter. That included changing the legal name of the group in Florida to the Jorge Mas Canosa Freedom Foundation. The IRS’s concerns are now resolved, Fowler says. Still, in the midst of those changes, Miranda took advantage, he says. Miranda, president of the new CANF, resigned from the original CANF in March following an unspecified “disagreement with management,” the suit says. Since then, he’s “engaged in a calculated scheme to attempt to deprive CANF of its trademark … and mislead the public, including potential donors.” The lawsuit says the original CANF has spent “enormous sums of money” advertising and promoting itself and its name, and used that self-promotion to make itself famous and to raise “large sums of money through annual campaigns.” Miranda is sabotaging that effort, the suit says, by disparaging Mas Santos’ organization and telling donors to “stop making donations to CANF because CANF is no longer the Cuban American National Foundation and is illegitimate,” the suit says.

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