'Get Motivated' speaker seminars get into sticky lawsuit with Naples woman at center

The Get Motivated seminar at Germain Arena in 2011, a two-day event featuring speakers Laura Bush, Colin Powell, Rudy Guiliani and Lou Holtz.  Michael Ricci/Staff file photo

Photo by Michael Ricci

The Get Motivated seminar at Germain Arena in 2011, a two-day event featuring speakers Laura Bush, Colin Powell, Rudy Guiliani and Lou Holtz. Michael Ricci/Staff file photo

Video from NBC-2

A local investor could lose millions after the sudden collapse of Get Motivated Seminars.

Naples resident Amy Wolfe is in a legal battle to get her money back after she says she loaned $12 million to a businessman to buy and operate the now-defunct Tampa-based company. Known for its high-powered motivational seminars that filled arenas across the country with cheap tickets, the company shut down in early July.

Its flashy events featured celebrities such as former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell. A two-day event in Estero packed Germain Arena in January 2011, drawing thousands to hear all-day pep talks.

Bloomberg News recently reported The Washington Speakers Bureau is owed more than $1.7 million for speeches made between November 2011 and February 2012 and that Giuliani, Powell and Laura Bush, the former first lady, may be among those who will go unpaid. Wolf contends she's owed much more than that — in excess of $12.7 million for loans she made to the company's new owner, Joseph Johnson, a businessman who lives in Apollo Beach near Tampa.

Wolfe, who couldn't be reached for comment, and her company, Lobo Capital Partners LLC, have filed lawsuits in state and federal court to try to get her money back and to protect her security interests in Get Motivated.

In one of her suits, filed in circuit court in Hillsborough County, Wolfe states she made two loans to Johnson in 2011 for the purchase of Get Motivated Seminars Inc.

According to the lawsuit, Johnson defaulted on both of the loans, one for $2 million and the other for $10 million, and the interest and fees owed on those loans grow daily. It appears he's made no payments on the loans.

Wolfe's Orlando attorney, Laurence Pino, declined to comment.

Johnson couldn't be reached for comment.

In June, Wolfe asked for a financial audit of Johnson and his companies in Florida and Utah to try to find out how he spent her money. The audit concluded he hadn't kept accurate and complete records, according to the lawsuit.

The seminars, with tickets as low as $1.95, were a means for generating leads for investment firms, which profited off attendees by selling them classes in "stock options and other trading tactics," Bloomberg reported in May.

Rick Nash, a spokesman for Get Motivated, told Bloomberg the troubled company shut down July 2, but that Johnson is working with its founder, Peter Lowe, to "relaunch" the seminars.

Wolfe has foreclosed on her security interests in Get Motivated and Johnson's other businesses, which he put up as collateral for her loans. Those interests include intellectual property, accounts receivable, inventories and equipment.

In one of her suits, Wolfe alleges Johnson is "wasting and misusing the collateral to the point of insolvency" and that she's at risk of losing most, if not all of her investment.

State records show Wolfe formed Lobo Capital Partners LLC in June 2012 to take over the Get Motivated assets. The company has a Naples address and she's listed as the manager. On Sept. 7, that company filed a federal lawsuit in Tampa against Brian Forte and two of his related companies in Hillsborough County, alleging they stole trade secrets and other confidential information from Get Motivated.

Forte, a former senior vice president for Get Motivated Seminars who the lawsuit says left the company in December 2011, couldn't immediately be reached for comment.

Wolfe alleges Forte is doing business under the name "Get Motivated" and he's offering seminars under that name, despite signing a confidentiality and non-compete agreement in January 2002.

According to the lawsuit, Forte formed Success Resources USA LLC, a Delaware company that's doing business in Florida as a professional development, training and seminar company. State records list him as a managing member of that company.

Wolfe said Get Motivated planned to hold seminars in Denver in September and in Orlando in November, but had to cancel them because of "issues" with Forte.

State records show Wolfe formed Lobo Capital Partners LLC in June 2012 to take over the Get Motivated assets. The company has a Naples address and she's listed as the manager. On Sept. 7, that company filed a federal lawsuit in Tampa against Brian Forte and two of his related companies in Hillsborough County, alleging they stole trade secrets and other confidential information from Get Motivated.

Forte's Success Resources is scheduling its own seminars in the same two cities on the same dates, featuring celebrity speakers such as sports stars and politicians. Advertisements for the seminars and the company's website have the "overall look and feel" of Get Motivated and include photos of past Get Motivated seminars, the suit states.

Advertisements for an upcoming seminar, called Success 2012, in Orlando boast tickets that are "almost free," starting at $1.95, and promote a lineup of speakers that includes billionaire media magnate Steve Forbes, comedian Bill Cosby, actor Michael J. Fox, broadcast icon Larry King and NBA legend Shaquille O'Neil.

Get Motivated was unique in having so many high-profile speakers all at a single event, said John LaRosa, a research director at Marketdata Enterprises Inc. in Tampa. He said it's a tough model for a business to follow because expenses are so high.

He said Lowe and his wife were in trouble almost from the start with Get Motivated.

"They've had a really rocky history," LaRosa said. "They've gone out of business multiple times and had multiple lawsuits."

Wolfe seeks an injunction against Forte and his related companies to stop them from holding seminars that mimic ones developed by Get Motivated's creators, who founded the business in the 1980s. On top of actual damages, she's demanding punitive damages to punish Forte. In Florida, punitive damages generally are capped at $500,000, or three times the actual damages.

The Tampa Tribune has detailed the collapse of Get Motivated Seminars and the ugly divorce of its founders, Peter and Tamara Lowe, in Palm Beach County. In court filings in the divorce case, Peter Lowe says he sold the Get Motivated business to Johnson on Jan. 9, with his wife's approval. He alleges Tamara Lowe turned around and set up a competing business, called Take Action Media Inc., stealing everything from computer files to chairs from the offices of their original business.

Tamara Lowe's attorney told the Tampa Tribune her husband "secretly" sold their business to Johnson.

Tamara Lowe's Take Action Media is also named in the lawsuit brought by Lobo Capital Partners, run by Wolfe. The suit contends Forte is an owner, officer or director of the competing company set up by Tamara Lowe.

The allegations of theft come as no surprise to researcher LaRosa.

"It's just like any other business that goes out of business. There's a possibility the former employees are going to go into the same business, thinking they can do it better and more profitable. Sometimes they can and sometimes they can't."

__ Connect with Laura Layden at www.naplesnews.com/staff/laura_layden

© 2012 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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