Zahed Lateef was a born entrepreneur. His family emigrated to the United States from India as a kid, and he was soon hard at work. He established a lawn-mowing business when he was 11 then, after graduating from high school a year early, launched a company that bought and sold repossessed tugboats in Louisiana. He tired of that and sold his stake, investing, profitably, in a series of ventures. He became an investment banker for a time, then established a retail energy provider in Texas.
In 2007 he moved on to his current project, Amvensys Capital Group, LLC. He founded the company as a provider of administrative services to businesses, but it soon expanded its holdings to include nearly a dozen companies in the United States and Asia, including a solar firm and Tag Mobile, one of those companies that advertise free cell phones to people on food stamps. It was successful.
Then, on November 17, 2010, Lateef received an email from an individual identifying himself as Hector Bravo. The correspondence dealt with a Public Utility Commission review of matters related to dPi Energy, an Amvensys subsidiary.
"I would like to forward you some information relating to the current PUCT investigation," Hector Bravo wrote. Bravo had recordings of phone calls with customers angry about dPi's billing, disconnections, activation problems and a host of other issues that, Bravo suggested, might cause the commission to look unfavorably on the company. "Your exposure is quite high due to the nature of your filed action," Lateef was reminded.
Luckily for him, Bravo was willing to help: "There is a lot more information that I have available through my sources, but I have certain costs in the procurement of information."
Lateef didn't bite. Six month later, the Amvensys Human Resources Department received an email from Bravo.
"You should know that Zahed Lateef is a theif (sic) and a liar," it said. "Everything hes (sic) says is a lie and he defrauds people all the time. Your company is going out of business and you should all look for a new job."
Over the next couple of months, a person using the Bravo's email address but identifying himself as Larry Green sent a series of emails to Jon Taylor, Amvensys' former chief financial officer and a member of its board of managers. The emails called Lateef a con artist and warned Taylor, "You are dealing with the devil and apparently has you in a trance."
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"I believe you have been used by someone with nefarious intentions. Zahed Lateef is a criminal, a thief and a scammer. I do not know if you are someone who believes in God or morals, but Zahed Lateef believes in neither and would steal from his own mother."
Similar emails to Lateef's clients and business associates followed, as did a filing by Green to the Federal Communications Commission outlining similar allegations.
All of this was not just a nuisance but hurt Lateef's business to the tune of more than $100,000 that he wants back, according to the lawsuit he filed this week in federal court. Before that can happen, however, he has to figure out exactly who Hector Bravo/Larry Green are. All he has are a couple of IP addresses tied to a home and a business address in Vancouver.
Lateef is asking the court to help, though the suit notes, Amvensys' investigation into the emailer's identity is ongoing.