From left, David M. Levine, Juan J. Rodriguez and Amy M. Bowers-Zamora, with Carey Rodriguez Milian Gonya. (J. Albert Diaz)
Miami and Washington, D.C., attorneys turned the tables on plaintiffs seeking “at least hundreds of millions of dollars” in an antitrust lawsuit linked to professional soccer’s biggest scandal.
Miami-based Carey Rodriguez Milian Gonya teamed with international law firm Amsterdam & Partners to defend professional soccer governing body Conmebol, the South American Football Confederation. They filed a motion to dismiss the entire action for the court’s lack of personal jurisdiction. Together, the attorneys helped beat back allegations in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida that Conmebol was part of a corrupt global operation that accepted bribes to award broadcast and marketing rights to professional soccer tournaments.
“We started off with our client being the target of a plaintiff who was trying to essentially shake us down because he wants the broadcast rights to our companies,” said Juan J. Rodriguez, a Carey Rodriguez partner who focuses on international complex fraud litigation and parallel proceedings.
Things looked grim at the onset for Conmebol, already caught in a sweeping criminal case in the Eastern District of New York that ensnared FIFA, the Fédération Internationale de Football Association, soccer’s international governing body.
Its accusers, GolTV Inc. and Global Sports Partners LLP, relied on the 92-count superseding indictment in the New York case that inspired similar pending suits in Switzerland, Uruguay and other jurisdictions across the globe.
The plaintiffs are Miami-Dade television broadcasting and sports marketing companies linked to former Uruguayan soccer star Francisco “Paco” Casal. They provide soccer coverage and news in English and Spanish to U.S. audiences, but claimed a corrupt regime pocketing hefty bribes deprived them of broadcast rights granted to agencies paying kickbacks from 2009 to 2015.
GolTV and Global Sports used the New York case to bolster their own claims. They pointed to the indictment of 27 officials charged with wire fraud, racketeering, money laundering, conspiracy and other crimes. They sued Conmebol, Fox Sports Latin America Ltd., Pan American Sports Enterprises Co., Fox International Channels (U.S.) Inc., Fox Networks Group Inc., T&T Sports Marketing Ltd., Torneos Y Competencias S.A., Full Play Group S.A., and individual defendants Eugenio Figueredo, Carlos Martinez, Hernan Lopez, James Ganley, Alejandro Burzacoand Juan Angel Napout.
But Conmebol’s defense counsel changed the narrative, successfully arguing their client was the victim, not the perpetrator.
“The bad actors promoted their own financial self-interest, directly adverse to Conmebol, and any attempt to profit in the aftermath of their corruption is nothing short of shameful,” said lead counsel Andrew Durkovic, who manages Amsterdam & Partners’ Washington, D.C. office.
The attorneys filed a two-part consolidated motion to dismiss the suit against Conmebol and Full Play Group for lack of personal jurisdiction, and a motion to dismiss the case against Argentine defendant Burzaco for forum non conveniens.
“What happened here is our client was victimized by alleged unscrupulousness by officers of the association, who were allegedly accepting bribes to line their own pockets,” Rodriguez said. “They were victimizing us. That’s what won the day. At the end of the day, the court said that we were right.”
U.S. District Judge Cecilia M. Altonaga granted the motion for the two corporate defendants, but kept Burzaco — who was among those indicted in the Eastern District of New York — in the Florida case.
“Given its analysis, and again mindful of the high burden in disturbing a plaintiff’s choice of forum, the court declines to transfer the suit to the E.D.N.Y,” Altonaga ruled.