New federal lawsuit questions dealings tied to Fort Myers Beach Margaritaville profits

A proposed class-action lawsuit against TPI Hospitality includes Tom Torgerson

Phil Fernandez
Fort Myers News-Press

The Minnesota-based builder of Fort Myers Beach's Margaritaville forced their employees to sell their company stock, which means workers are going to miss out on profits from the resort they should have had, according to a new federal lawsuit.

The proposed class action raises questions about dealings tied to TPI Hospitality Co-CEO Tom Torgerson, who has been the force behind the complex due to debut by the end of the year that was delayed by Hurricane Ian.

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Since 1991, Torgerson, a Fort Myers Beach resident, has been at the head of the firm that operates dozens of hotels and restaurants in Minnesota and Florida.

In 2015, TPI became 100% employee-owned after the TPI Hospitality Employee Stock Ownership Plan it formed, known as an ESOP, acquired 100% of its stock for $10 million.

After announcing plans for the Jimmy Buffett-themed compound, TPI terminated the ESOP plan, and the stock was sold for $500,000 to "Torgerson's long-time friend," John Dammermann, who is now co-CEO, according to the suit filed by former employee, Jessica Kloss. "The 2020 transaction allowed Thomas Torgerson and Dammermann to reap the expected windfall from the Margaritaville Resort and excluded the plan and its participants from sharing in the anticipated profits."

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The legal action in Minnesota's U.S. District Court against TPI, Torgerson and others seeks to "recover losses (and) obtain monetary and appropriate or remedial relief."

We're waiting to hear back from TPI representatives. If we do, we'll plan an update.

In a separate deal, across the street from about where Margaritaville's lobby is slated, the house of Torgerson's daughter just closed and sold for $4.2 million. As we first reported last month, it became pending four days after being listed, January's fifth biggest Lee County home sale. Before the 2020 construction of the digs, land records show the property sold for $800,000 in 2018.

Based at the Naples Daily News, Columnist Phil Fernandez ( writes In the Know as part of the USA TODAY NETWORK. Support Democracy and subscribe to a newspaper.