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Lengthy trial gets under way

Plaintiff in fraud case seeks some $60M in actual damages

A Jackson County jury will begin hearing weeks of evidence today in a highly complex fraud case where the plaintiff is seeking to recover tens, if not hundreds, of millions of dollars in damages.

Pier to Pier wants approximately $60 million in compensatory damages, said its attorney, Todd Graves, of Graves Bartle & Marcus. He added that his client also wants to recover at least twice that amount in punitives from the defendants, U.S. Bank and Multi Service Corp.

Todd Graves

Todd Graves

Graves presented his opening statements to the jury on Thursday. The defense will open today, and evidence will follow. The trial is expected to last at least five weeks and possibly go as long as seven or eight weeks.

The case is being tried before Jackson County Circuit Judge Edith Messina.

In an interview on Friday, Graves described the actions of the defendants as a “bait-and-switch” tactic that completely wiped out Pier to Pier.

“It’s one of the oldest stories in the book,” he said. “Rather than compete, you secure and destroy.”

At the heart of the dispute is a credit card processing system created by Pier to Pier, which claimed it was duped by U.S. Bank and Multi Service, who allegedly told the company they would become partners to help promote a system they would later crush.

Jim Wyrsch, of Wyrsch Hobbs & Mirakian and one of several attorneys representing the defendants, declined to provide details about the defense.

Jim Wyrsch

Jim Wyrsch

Court records indicate the defendants will point to concerns they had about the Pier to Pier system and alleged problems inside the company, including a lack of money and poor management.

Pier to Pier targeted the general aviation industry for the initial rollout of its “revolutionary” e-commerce-based transactional system.

Graves said the product was going to overtake the market and antiquate the technology used by U.S. Bank and Multi Service.

“My client owned a newly invented, competing product that was going to destroy the defendants’ monopoly in processing credit cards in private aviation,” he said. “The defendants surreptitiously sought out my client, were able to convince them to partner with them, secured the rights to the new way that was going to change everything in the industry and then put it on a shelf and destroyed the company.”

Pier to Pier filed the lawsuit in December 2006.

The two sides spent parts of three days last week picking the jurors. The jury includes four alternates.

Selecting a jury was “tedious and difficult,” Graves said, due to concerns over the length of the trial and other concerns that surfaced.

“One of the defendants is one of the largest banks in the country,” Graves said. “Many people have their accounts or credit cards or foreclosures on their homes through that bank. All of that had to be looked into before the jury could be selected.”

Prior to being dismissed on Thursday afternoon, the jury received some words of caution from the judge.

“You’re going to be very tired,” Messina said. “If you think you have been tired the last three days, you have no idea how tired you’re going to be at the end of each day just sitting in this.

“It looks like easy work, but it is tremendous,” she added.

Despite the concerns of presenting a complex case over the course of five or more weeks, Graves said that he “feels great” about the jury and the case.

“It will be very, very taxing on all of the participants,” he said. “And this case is highly contested, and there are a lot of legal issues in addition to the factual issues.”