The suit also names as defendants certain individuals employed by the corporate defendants, including specifically Jack Friedman, Stephen Berman and Joel Bennett, the three highest-ranking executives of Jakks, and Stanley Shenker and James Bell.
The suit alleges numerous violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act (RICO); violations of the anti-bribery provisions of the Robinson-Patman Act; and various claims arising under state law. By the action, WWE is seeking treble, punitive and other damages, as well as a declaration that the videogame license with the joint venture of Jakks and THQ, and a related amendment to the toy license with Jakks, are void and unenforceable due to commercial bribery and other violations of state law. The lawsuit can be viewed at corporate.wwe.com.
The suit arises out of litigation initially commenced by SSAI against WWE in Connecticut state court for commissions SSAI claimed it had earned while serving as WWE's licensing agent. During that litigation, WWE discovered certain irregularities in its licensing program beginning in the 1998 time frame when SSAI served as WWE's licensing agent and Bell served as WWE's Senior Vice President of Licensing and Merchandising. Specifically, WWE learned in the Connecticut state court proceeding that SSAI split its commissions with Bell on various licenses allegedly procured by SSAI and recommended to WWE management by Bell. WWE also learned that certain licensees had paid monies into a foreign bank account controlled by Shenker during the time he was WWE's licensing agent. In the Connecticut case, the Court found that Stanley Shenker had committed serial perjury in order to cover up his payments to Bell and his receipt of monies in a foreign bank account from WWE licensees, including Jakks, and granted a default judgment in favor of WWE against SSAI on counterclaims asserted against SSAI. The Court in the Connecticut case has also granted partial summary judgment against Bell in favor of WWE on claims asserted against Bell by WWE.
The federal lawsuit filed by WWE against Jakks and the other defendants relates to a series of payments made in 1998 to Shenker's foreign bank account by two foreign subsidiaries of Jakks. The Company has discovered that the payments in question were then split with Bell by Shenker. Two of the payments in question occurred during the time that WWE was in the process of selecting a licensee for videogames featuring WWE talent. One of the payments was directed to be made by Jakks' officers on the same day that SSAI and Bell recommended that the videogame license be granted to Jakks. The third payment was made after the videogame license was awarded to a joint venture of Jakks and THQ.
In a statement issued today, Linda McMahon, the Chief Executive Officer of WWE, stated:
"We very much regret having to take this action today, but regret even more the facts and circumstances which have compelled us to do so. WWE's intellectual property is a valuable asset of the Company, and we believe the actions taken today are necessary to preserve the integrity of our licensing process and essential to ensure that WWE receives appropriate and fair compensation for the grant of a license to use our intellectual property."
Jakks has been WWE's toy licensee since late 1995 and the current toy licenses are otherwise set to expire in 2009. The joint venture of Jakks and THQ obtained the videogame license in 1998, with its term also scheduled to expire in 2009, subject to a right to renew the license by the joint venture for another five years on certain conditions.