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LYNN KASSEM v MATT MARTIN, DEBI CONNOR aka DEBORAH CONNOR dba DEBI CONNOR SALES, et al.

No. 5:15-CV-623

U.S. District Court, Middle District of Florida, Ocala

COMPLAINT AND DEMAND FOR JURY TRIAL

Plaintiff Lynn Kassem (“Kassem”) as and for her Complaint against Defendants Matt
Martin a/k/a William Matthew Martin d/b/a Matt Martin Sales, individually (“Martin”), Debi
Connor alk/a Deborah Connor and d/b/a Debi Connor Sales, individually (“Connor”) and against
DC Sales & Entertainment, LLC (“DC Sales & Entertainment”) and against DC Sales and
Marketing, LTD (“DC Sales and Marketing”) (collectively, “DC Sales”) hereby states as
follows:

ALLEGATIONS COMMON TO ALL COUNTS

Nature of the Action

I. This is an action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332 and 28 U.S.C. § 1391 for:Breach of Contract;
Negligent Misrepresentation;
Fraud;
Unjust Enrichment and Disgorgement;
Breach of Fiduciary Duties;
Respondeat Superior for Negligent Supervision;
Fraud;
Conspiracy to Commit Fraud and Fraudulent Concealment;
Violation of F.S. §§ 772.103 et seq.; and
Aiding and Abetting Fraud;
Strict Liability for Failure to Provide Timely Bill of Sale as
Required by the Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practice Pursuant to
F.S. Chapter 501, Part II and Demand for Injunction; and
Strict Liability for Dual Agency under the Unfair and Deceptive
Trade Practice Pursuant to F .S. Chapter 50 I, Part II
and Demand for Transaction Documents

2. The underlying matter concerns a scheme by Martin to enrich himself, through sales
commissions and engagement as independent contractor and agent, by inducing Kassem, via
conspiracy and misrepresentations and fraud, to purchase horses as investments and for her
young child to ride that were unsound, defective and otherwise not fit for the purpose for which
Martin knew Kassem to be purchasing the horses. Through a series of equine purchase and sale
transactions spanning four years, Martin, alone and sometimes together with Connor and DC
Sales, fraudulently earned sales commissions on horses that were not suitable for Kassem’s
minor child or as investments. Further, Martin took unfair advantage of his position as Kassem’ s

in-house equestrian trainer to manipulate Kassem to purchase the horses from Connor and others
while breaching his fiduciary duties to Kassem.

3. The total of the horse purchases, which are detailed below, totaled at least $925,000.00.

4. Almost all of the horses selected and presented by Martin, both alone and with Connor
and DC Sales, have not performed as represented to Plaintiff. As detailed more specifically
below, often, after the purchase and sale of a given horse, Plaintiff would encounter grave
soundness or behavioral problems that rendered the horses wholly unsuitable for Kassem’s
young daughter to ride and compete upon or as investments that were to be resold at a profit. For
example, Kassem only recently has discovered that the horse “Beguiled” had an adverse medical
history which was not disclosed by Defendants.

5. In order to mitigate her damages and curtail the continued high cost of maintenance of
the horses, Kassem has been forced to liquidate some of the horses for a sales price far below the

purchase price and has been forced to spend tens of thousands of dollar on veterinary care for the
remaining horses which are now unable to compete.

6. Despite demand by Kassem to Martin for rescission of the purchased horses Kassem still
retains, Martin has refused to rescind the transactions or otherwise compensate Kassem for her
losses caused by Martin’s conduct.

7. Many of the horses came from Connor and/or the Connor Defendants.

Connor and/or the Connor Defendants specified Florida as the proper venue and
choice of law in their bills of sale for the horses. In some cases those Defendants sold the h~rses
from Ocala, Florida and Martin traveled to Ocala to select those horses for Kassem. See
Exhibits 1, 2 and 4 hereto.

The Parties

8. Plaintiff Kassem is resident of the State of Georgia and is the mother of Alliah Kassem
(“Alliah”), a now-17 year old rider who participates in highly competitive equestrian show
jumping in the United States. Kassem supports Alliah’s riding activity by acquiring specialized
and unique sport horses.

9. Defendant Matt Martin a/k/a William Matthew Martin, sometimes d/b/a Matt Martin
Sales (“Martin”) is now, upon information and belief, a resident of the State of Tennessee. At all
times relevant hereto, by Mr. Martin held himself out to the public, including Plaintiff, as a
professional horse trainer and expert in the purchase and sale of horses used for equestrian show
jumping competition. Martin repeatedly and systematically traveled to the State of Florida and
elsewhere in furtherance of his conspiracy and fraud against Martin as described herein. At

times relevant hereto, in Florida, Martin conspired with Connor to sell to Kassem in Florida
multiple horses, which contained undisclosed defects, to in order to earn commissions, justify his
expenses and otherwise create benefit and value for himself and Connor.

10. Defendant Deborah Connor a/k/a Debi Connor is, upon information and belief, a resident
of the State of Florida, having an address at 15732 North Highway 329, Reddick Florida 32686,
where she maintains and conducts her businesses of purchasing and selling horses as “Debi
Connor Sales” and through her alter egos “DC Sales & Entertainment, LLC” a Florida limited
liability company, and “DC Sales and Marketing, LTD” a Virginia corporation. Debi Connor
Sales, DC Sales & Entertainment, LLC and DC Sales and Marketing, LTD (“collectively “DC
Sales”) are mere instrumentalities and alter egos of Deborah Connor and Deborah Connor
engaged in extensive improper conduct individually, through her d/b/a Debi Connor Sales and
through her two alter ego DC Sales entities, with respect to Plaintiff, as more specifically set
forth below in the claims against them.

11. Defendant DC Sales and Marketing, LTD, wholly owned by Debi Connor, is a Virginia
corporation having an office and regularly conducting business at 15732 North Highway 329,
Reddick Florida 32686. DC Sales & Entertainment, LLC is a Florida limited liability company
regularly conducting business at 15732 North Highway 329, Reddick Florida 32686. DC Sales &
Entertainment was the alter ego entity utilized by Debi Connor and Martin to sell horses to
Kassem for several of the transactions at issue herein. Debi Connor, Debi Connor Sales and DC
Sales and Marketing, LTD and DC Sales & Entertainment, LLC are collectively “the Connor Defendants” herein.

12. At all times relevant hereto, and with respect to the purchase and sale transactions for the
horses and training of the horses and the minor Kassem, Defendant Martin was employed by
Kassem as an independent contractor for, and agent of, Plaintiff Kassem.

13. However, unbeknownst and undisclosed to Kassem, at all relevant times hereto, Defendant
Martin was pursuing a scheme and conspiracy in Florida and elsewhere to sell Kassem defective
horses at inflated values and otherwise perpetuate his engagement as Kassem’ s agent and contractor
in order to obtain sales commissions from and have expenses paid by Kassem.[irp]

Jurisdiction and Venue

14. This Court has subject matter pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332 because there is complete
diversity of citizenship of the parties and the amount in controversy is in excess of $ 75,000.00.

16. Many of the actions or omissions of the Defendants occurred within this District,
specifically in Reddick, Marion County, Florida, and as more particularly set forth herein, many
of the relevant contracts designate Florida as the appropriate venue and jurisdiction for disputes
concerning the relevant transactions. See Exhibits 1, 2, 3 and 4 hereto.

17. At all times relevant hereto and as set forth at length herein below, Defendant Martin
traveled to Marion County, Florida and conducted business therein on behalf of Plaintiff Kassem
and Martin and the Connor Defendants did conspire in Marion County, Florida to defraud
Kassem.

18. As well, venue in this District is therefore proper pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1391, in that
many of the acts or omissions that give rise to the claims in this action occurred in this District
and all Defendants herein are subject to the personal jurisdiction of the Court.

Nature of the Dispute

I. The suspect equine transactions.

20. From 2011 until his abrupt and unplanned departure from Plaintiffs farm in August,
2015, Martin cultivated both a business and close personal relationship with Kassem and her
child from his position as the minor Kassem’ s equestrian trainer. Kassem and her daughter were
new to high level equestrian activities and looked to Martin to provide professional guidance.
By ingratiating himself to Kassem and inserting himself into Kassem’s equestrian activities for
Kassem’s daughter, Kassem came to trust Martin and rely upon the professional judgment of
Martin with respect to the purchase of horses suitable for investment and for her minor daughter.

A. Axel and Rosalie.

21. In the Summer of 2011, Kassem had requested Martin locate a horse capable of carrying

Kassem ‘s daughter successfully in junior equitation and junior hunter classes. Shortly thereafter,
Martin approached Kassem and offered Kassem an opportunity to acquire two horses, “Axel” for
$ 10,000 and “Rosalie” for $ 55,000 plus the trade in of Kassem’s then-present horse,
“Hollister.” Relying upon the training and experience of Martin, as well as upon their
professional and personal relationship, Kassem and her daughter accepted Martin’s
recommendation as to the health and qualifications of Axel and Rosalie to safely carry Kassem’s
daughter in training and competition. Kassem therefore purchased those two horses on July 28,
2011 for a total of $65,000 plus the horse Hollister for which a $ 5,000 credit was then applied.

22. Martin earned a 10% commission on the purchase of each horse in the amount of $1,000
and$ 5,500, repectively. At the time Martin sold Axel and Rosalie to Kassem, Martin owned
Axel and Rosalie himself, but did not disclose that ownership. In fact Martin created several
stories regarding the horses, including that the owners were going through a divorce and needed

to sell the horses. Martin then used the straw seller name “Ricky Coward” on the prepurchase
exams, although the Bill of Sale is between Matt Martin Sales and Kassem. The proceeds of the
sale were wired directly to Martin’s bank account. In fact, Martin had purchased Rosalie and
Axel for a total of $30,000 through Peggy Welden, Debi Connor’s sister immediately prior to
selling them to Kassem for $65,000. Those transactions took place in Tennessee.

23. Matt Martin knew or should have known that Rosalie was not sound when he sold her to
Kassem. Rosalie had gone lame with her former owner and was at Peggy Welden’s farm to be
sold as a broodmare because of that prior soundness issue. Because Martin knew that Rosalie
was not sound and would not pass a prepurchase exam, he gave the horse pain relieving drugs to
mask the lameness of the horse and then encouraged the Kassems not to take radiographs or
preform a drug screen on Rosalie, the horse which was being purchased for$ 55,000.

24. Shortly after purchasing Rosalie and Axel, both horses were lame and could not be

ridden. Eventually, Martin could no longer cover Rosalie’s unsoundness with drugs and she was
retired as a broodmare.

B. Hunter Gatherer.

25. After Rosalie could no longer be ridden by Alliah, Martin leased Alliah a horse he owned
named “Hunter Gatherer”. Kassem paid Martin $10,930 for a six month lease on the horse.
Hunter Gatherer was also not an appropriate horse for Alliah and would consistently refuse to
jump jumps, placing Alliah in harm’s way.

C. City of Angels.

26. In May, 2013, after Alliah had been thrown to the ground several times by Hunter
Gatherer, Martin recommended Kassem purchase a horse named “City of Angels,” which Debi

Connor through DC Sales & Entertainment, LLC owned. City of Angels was priced at
$275,000. When Kassem inquired why the horse was so expensive, Connor and Martin
represented to Kassem that the horse was qualified for the International Hunter Derby finals, and
that such qualification made the horse worth at least $500,000. These were false statements in
that the qualification for the Derby did not make the market value of the horse $ 275,000.

Martin and Connor knew Kassem was inexperienced in the purchase, sale and valuation of
horses, and that Kassem was relying upon Martin, their relationship, and his experience in the
equine industry, to look after Kassem’s best interests in the purchase and sale transactions he was
undertaking on behalf of Kassem. Relying upon Kassem’ s recommendation, experience and
their relationship, Kassem purchased City of Angels for $ 275,000 on June 1, 2013. Martin
earned a commission of $27,500 on that transaction and Connor received $275,000.

27. The City of Angels Bill of Sale designates Marion County, FL as the venue for any

disputes arising from the agreement [Exhibit 1 hereto].

28. Within months of purchase, City of Angels began manifesting soundness and neurologic,
and behavioral issues. City of Angels began to stop at fences and would violently spin, throwing
Alliah to the ground. In January 2014, Alliah was riding City of Angels when the horse fell to
the ground while competing in Ocala, Florida. The horse was thereafter diagnosed with “kissing
spine” disease, otherwise known as Dorsal Spinous Process (“DSP”) impingement, where
vertebrae of the spine begin to touch one another, causing the horse to develop behavioral and
performance issues. DSP does not develop suddenly develop.

29. Ultimately, the horse was declared to be unable to be used and Kassem was forced to
make an insurance claim on the horse for loss of use. Unfortunately, Kassem was only able to

recover 70% of her loss and so Kassem sustained damages of $82,500. Kassem was also
required to surrender the horse to the insurance carrier to be destroyed.

30. After City of Angels went lame and had to be surrendered to the insurance company,
Kassem was very clear with Martin that all of the horses she purchased, whether for Alliah or
investment purposes must have a complete prepurchase exam, including drug screen, full
cervical x-rays and be insured with loss of use coverage. Since Martin’s departure, Kassem has
discovered that Martin rarely, if ever, followed her instructions with respect to the other horses
he purchased or arranged for purchase as her agent.

31. Thereafter, again relying on Martin’s training and experience, as well as their supposed
friendship with Martin, in the Fall of 2013, Kassem invited Martin to be her resident trainer at a
farm she purchased in Fayetteville, Georgia and to manage her equestrian operation and
activities for the farm and for her daughter. Amongst Martin’s duties and responsibilities were:

* recommending healthy and safe horses for Kassem’ s daughter;
* participating in the prepurchase examination (“PPE”) by a veterinarian and
conveying those findings to Kassem prior to purchase of a horse;
* training those horses once purchased;
* training Kassem’ s daughter in her equestrian activities;
* recommending healthy and safe horses for investment by Kassem;
* obtaining all passports, ownership documents and registration paperwork for each
horse;
* completing all details necessary to adequately inspect and insure all horses purchased by Kassem;

supervising veterinary care and appointments for all the horses;
* coordinating all exhibition activities of the Kassem horses;
* operation, maintenance and safety of the Kassem farm facilities and farm house;
* advertising and marketing the Kassem investment horses for sale; and
* supervision of staff to perform any and all of the above.

Martin was allowed to keep 25 to 30 of his personal and sale horses at the Kassem farm for free
and live at the farmhouse in exchange for those duties. That is not an insignificant in-kind
payment by Kassem, as the cost to house one given horse can average $500-700 a month.

32. Once ensconced at Kassem’s farm, Martin launched a specific and planned scheme to
promote expensive horses to Kassem for purchase so that Martin would both earn a large
commission on each sale and continue to operate as the trainer of those horses and of Kassem’ s
daughter.

 

View Full Complaint

Matt Martin Motion to Dismiss

Debi Connor Motion to Dismiss

Order   

Matt Martin Answers to Complaint

Debi Connor Answers to Complaint

Plaintiff’s Motion to Strike

Order  

 

Additional court documents coming!

 

 

 

 

January 7, 2018

Lynn Kassem and defendant Matt Martin aka William Matthew Martin dba Matt Martin Sales reached a confidential settlement with each bearing their own attorneys’ fees and costs. The case is dismissed with prejudice.

 

 

 

Horse Trainers Martin, Connor Sued for Shady Sales Practices