Vision Wine Brands sues to prevent former employees from using trade secrets
Vision Wine Brands LLC of Port Chester is asking a court to prevent a former partner and former employee from using wine importer’s trade secrets in a competing business.
“Castiblanco and Grammer inappropriately used and disclosed Vision Wine’s confidential information for the benefit of Skin Contact and themselves and to harm Vision Wine,” the complaint states.
Skin Contact Wines did not respond to an email request for its side of the story or a phone message to Castiblanco’s home in Leonia, New Jersey, where the company is based.
Vision Wine Brands was created in 2008 by Robert Mazurkiewicz, Castiblanco and a third partner which has since been acquired.
Mazurkiewicz originally held a 40 percent stake and now owns 77 percent compared to Castiblanco’s 23 percent.
Grammer – Castiblanco’s brother-in-law – joined the company in 2015 as a sales intern and was eventually assigned to the lucrative Brooklyn Territory.
In the world of wine importation and wholesale distribution, a few large entities dominate the market, the complaint says. That leaves small and medium-sized businesses like Vision Wine Brands – with eight employees and annual revenue of $ 3.5 million – in fierce competition for market share.
Vision is licensed to sell wine to restaurants, hotels, and stores in New York City, and plans to expand into Connecticut and New Jersey.
It has developed a database of contacts, customer preferences, purchase records, product information, prices, profits and other confidential information that gives it “a competitive advantage over its economic competitors which do not have access to this information â, indicates the complaint.
Employees sign confidentiality agreements to protect information.
Castiblanco’s job was to drive sales and growth, train sales staff, coordinate visits with suppliers and represent the company at trade events. As a minority owner, he received a monthly distribution of $ 7,500 until May 2018, when it was reduced to $ 5,500.
Last year, according to Vision, Castiblanco’s performance declined significantly. At the start of 2019, he was “largely absent from his post” and he was reportedly not cooperating, as a partner, in efforts to bring in a new investor.
Castiblanco also owes Vision $ 153,834 on a loan, according to the complaint, but has apparently not made any payments.
Castiblanco and Grammer formed Skin Contact Wines in February, as an importer and distributor of organic wines in New York and New Jersey, while working for Vision.
Mazurkiewicz confronted them on June 6. Grammer reportedly conceded that Skin Contact Wines was formed to compete with Vision, and he was fired for just cause.
Castiblanco is said to have brazenly boasted that efforts to compete began long before February.
Vision looked for evidence in the correspondence of the men. Castiblanco, for example, ordered 336 cases of wine from an Italian supplier last November, as part of a “special project outside of Vision Wine Brands“. He signed as “Ricardo, Vision Wine Brands”.
When Castiblanco started the new company, the complaint says, he gave up his job for Vision and undermined sales. He and Grammer also allegedly hijacked Vision’s business forms and models.
Vision accuses them of misappropriation of trade secrets, interference, unfair competition and breach of contract.
She seeks unspecified damages, repayment of the Castiblanco loan and an order prohibiting Skin from using her confidential information.
Vision says it also plans to pursue a breach of contract claim against Castiblanco through arbitration, as required by the operating agreement.
Vision is represented by David P. Friedman and Taruna Garg of Murtha Cullina LLP, Stamford and White Plains.