SEATTLE (AP) -Former SuperSonics owner Howard Schultz filed suit Tuesday to undo his sale of the team to an Oklahoma City-based group led by Clay Bennett, saying Bennett lied to him by insisting he planned to keep the NBA franchise in Seattle.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court, seeks to deprive Bennett's group of ``the fruits of its deception'' by rescinding the sale, and described Bennett's actions as ``fraud.'' Schultz and his co-owners never would have sold the Sonics if they thought the new owners would move them out of town, the complaint said.
Starbucks Corp. Chairman Schultz is asking a judge to hold the team in trust until an ``honest buyer'' can be found who will keep the team in Seattle.
A spokesman for Bennett declined to comment Tuesday.
Bennett's Professional Basketball Club bought the team from Schultz in July 2006, and Bennett publicly insisted he planned to keep the Sonics in Seattle. On July 16 of that year, he wrote a side letter to Schultz denying any intentions to move the Sonics or the WNBA's Seattle Storm: ``It is our desire to have the Sonics and Storm continue their existence in the Greater Seattle area,'' Bennett wrote, according to Schultz's complaint.
``That statement was false from the moment it was made,'' Seattle attorney Richard C. Yarmuth wrote in the complaint. ``The Oklahoma City group's true intention ... was to move the team to Oklahoma City at the earliest possible time.''
The complaint also disclosed the existence of an e-mail from Bennett to his co-owners two days before the sale, saying that if a new arena deal was reached to keep the Sonics in Seattle, the Professional Basketball Club could just sell the team in a ``sweet flip,'' and still leave the ownership group ``in good shape for something in OKC.''
``This recently discovered e-mail makes clear that the Oklahoma City group never intended to own a team that would continue playing in Seattle,'' the complaint said.
The NBA's Board of Governors voted last Friday to approve the Sonics' move to Oklahoma. When asked that day about the possibility of a lawsuit by Schultz, Bennett said: ``Well, I operated in good faith and that will be vetted through the trial and be clear. And further, I was disappointed because I've had a nice relationship with Howard, and I have not spoken with him about this issue, and I made a commitment to him personally, as well, that was meaningful to me and I hail to that commitment.''
Bennett's group is also facing two other hurdles in its efforts to move the Sonics: a federal lawsuit brought by the city of Seattle, seeking to force the team to remain at KeyArena through the end of its lease in 2010; and a federal lawsuit brought by fans who say they were duped into buying season tickets under the premise the team would stay.
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AP Sports Writer Gregg Bell contributed to this report.
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