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Monday, November 17, 2008

Johnny the Jet to the Bank


Heisman Trophy winner Johnny "the Jet" Rodgers and his former business partner, an Omaha surgeon, have filed dueling lawsuits over what went wrong.

In a lawsuit filed in Douglas County District Court last week, Dr. Nirmal Raj says Rodgers contributed no money to Jets All Sports Bar & Grill, 3229 Harney St. He further alleges that Rodgers ran the restaurant into the ground, in part because the former Husker hired an incompetent manager. But in a lawsuit filed in September, Rodgers alleges that Raj refused to pay Rodgers and ruined the business by changing its format.

Raj wants $180,000 - half of the $360,000 in losses he says the business incurred - plus at least $34,000 for Rodgers' share of mortgage payments.

Rodgers also wants $180,000 - the amount he says he's owed for working "12 hours a day for 10 months," getting the business ready for its short-lived run.

Jets never took off. Seven months into its existence - and after $360,000 in losses - Raj pulled the plug on the format and reopened the restaurant as the Attic Bar & Grill. Now, the doctor and the Heisman trophy winner both feel like they got stiff-armed. "I think he certainly feels that he was taken advantage of," said Raj's attorney, Ed Hotz. "What's the old saying? 'Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from a series of bad judgments.' Well, Dr. Raj thought the best of everybody. Now, he feels taken."

Rodgers, meanwhile, says Raj took advantage of Rodgers' name and reputation - and pulled the plug too quickly on Jets. The business "was affiliated with the name, public image and goodwill of Rodgers," Rodgers' attorney, W. Craig Howell, wrote in the lawsuit. "As a result of the actions of Raj, Rodgers has lost value in the use of his name and the name 'Jet.'"

According to the dueling lawsuits:

Raj said Rodgers and the building's original owner, Judy Anding, came to him and asked for a loan of $40,000. Later, the two asked for additional funds. Raj said he agreed to provide more money in return for becoming a partner in the venture. Eventually, Anding sold her rights to the building. And eventually, Raj said, he put up more than $720,000. Rodgers "had no money to put up," Hotz said. "He contributed his name."

But Rodgers' attorney says Rodgers contributed much more. Howell said Rodgers worked exhaustively while supervising the remodeling of the building and day-to-day operations of the restaurant. Rodgers says Raj told Rodgers he would be compensated for his work. Raj denies that. The Omaha doctor says Rodgers' reward for his sweat equity was his share in the business' profits - or losses. Raj said Rodgers also agreed to pay one-third of the mortgage - a point Rodgers disputes. Rodgers has not made any mortgage payments. Raj says Rodgers stopped speaking with him when Raj demanded that the business manager be fired in March. Rodgers denies that, saying Raj ruined a good thing before it had a chance.

Though Raj says the business was hemorrhaging money, Rodgers contends that the business brought in $10,000 in revenue per week. With development of condos and shops at the nearby Midtown Crossing, Jets was bound to succeed, Rodgers' attorney said. "I think the evidence is going to show that the direction it was taking, it was on the right track," Howell said. "Jets would have been a good spot."

Hotz said Jets was a crash-and-burn disaster.

It ran up $360,000 in operating losses in about seven months. Hotz said that was because of a familiar failing of bars and restaurants: Too little supervision in the house and too much food and drink on the house.

"I'm sure this legal battle will add to Dr. Raj's injuries," Hotz said.

Howell said Raj's allegations have damaged Rodgers' name.

At one point, Raj's lawsuit notes, the owners had to lower Rodgers' ownership interest to 24 percent when the business couldn't get a liquor license because of Rodgers' felony conviction for robbing a Lincoln gas station in 1971. Under state law, felons cannot own more than a quarter of an establishment that serves liquor.

Rodgers addressed that fact during interviews before the bar opened late last year - lamenting the fact that his conviction was haunting him 37 years later. Rodgers graduated from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 1997 and often speaks to youths about staying out of trouble.

"I've got to be one of the most rehabilitated persons you can find," he said last year. Rodgers' attorney said Raj's dismantling of the business has caused Rodgers to have to rehabilitate his image. Once in the 1980s and once in the 1990s, Rodgers' Heisman Trophy was taken from him in disputes over debts Rodgers allegedly owed. Each time, he eventually got the trophy back.

That won't happen in this case because Rodgers doesn't owe anything, Howell said. "Johnny Rodgers has never done anything wrong towards any person in regards to this business. He put his heart and soul into it and hasn't received a penny."

Hotz said Raj is doing his best to recoup the 100 million pennies - or $1 million - he's invested. He's trying to make the best of it," Hotz said. "He really wants to make a go of it."

Dr. Raj deserves to pay Johnny every bit of that 180,000 that he is suing for. You (Dr. Raj) know you are fucked when when you have to file a countersuit to take Johnny Rodgers to court to recover just half of the half of the 720,000 dollars you invested out of the mere possibility that you can get anything from him at this point. It's not Johnny's fault that some arrogant, rich asshole tried to use his name to make money off a high-end sports bar at 32nd and Harney. What's even worse is that Dr. Raj didn't like the fact that Johnny was comping all food and drinks to the homeys that strolled in from the Jackson Towers. Honestly, what the hell do you think was going to happen? Did you really think all of the West Omaha soccer mom and dads were going to throw birthday parties or graduation parties there? The only birthday you are finding there is Tyrone Biggums' crack party, and as Johnny would tell you, 'come one, come all!'