TRENTON—The Pettegrow family, owners of the Trenton Bridge Lobster Pound, has filed a counterclaim against Lobster 207, which purchased the lobster pound’s wholesale operation and has accused the family of embezzlement, theft and breach of contract.
In the new claim filed in federal district court earlier this month, the Pettegrows, who continue to run the Trenton Bridge restaurant, contend that Lobster 207 broke its agreements with the family, engaged in smear campaigns to get out of contractual obligations and made the Pettegrows scapegoats for Lobster 207’s own failings. Warren Pettegrow, who had been running the family wholesale business at the time of the sale, and who stayed on to run it when Lobster 207 took over, has also filed a similar counterclaim.
Lobster 207 is a Trenton-based lobster wholesale co-op owned by members of the Maine Lobstering Union. In 2017, Lobster 207 bought the Trenton Bridge’s wholesale lobster business and its Lamoine wholesale facility for $4 million.
Anthony Pettegrow and his son Warren Pettegrow ran the wholesale business while Josette Pettegrow, Anthony’s wife, ran the well-known Trenton Bridge restaurant that is located just before the bridge to Mount Desert Island.
As part of the sale of the wholesale business, Warren was made CEO of the new Lobster 207 wholesale business while the restaurant stayed in the family’s hands.
In 2019, Lobster 207 filed a lawsuit against the Trenton Bridge business and the Pettegrows claiming that the family had swindled the new company and created an enterprise to embezzle and cheat them out of money.
But the Pettegrows have filed claims of their own arguing that Lobster 207 was the one that had broken agreements and withheld payments.
After the purchase of the wholesale business, the Trenton Bridge Lobster Pound signed a noncompetition clause with Lobster 207 but could still operate its lobster-buying station for the restaurant. All unused lobsters would contractually be sold to Lobster 207, according to the counterclaim filed on May 3. There was also a similar agreement for Warren’s smack boat.
But, since June 2019, Lobster 207 has not been buying the excess lobsters from the Trenton Bridge Lobster Pound or Warren’s boat, breaking their agreement and causing in excess of $1 million in damages, according to the countersuit.
Lobster 207 also allegedly broke the noncompetition clause, which dictated that the company couldn’t invest in a restaurant within 15 miles of Trenton Bridge Lobster Pound, because Lobster207 had been advertising itself as a seafood restaurant using the same address as Trenton Bridge Lobster Pound.
The Trenton Bridge Lobster Pound also claims it incurred accounting and personnel costs that were never reimbursed by Lobster 207 when it helped the company by serving as a middleman with the Beals-Jonesport Co-op.
After Lobster 207’s purchase of the wholesale company, there was hesitation from local lobstermen to sell to the new company for fear they wouldn’t get paid on time, according to the complaint. The Trenton Bridge Lobster Pound agreed to help with the co-op because the co-op didn’t want to deal directly with Lobster 207, the complaint read.
But that time and effort was never repaid, the Pettergrows claim.
The Trenton Bridge Lobster Pound also said that Lobster 207 refused to purchase pallet jacks, which was part of the agreement in buying the wholesale business. The Pettegrows also contend defamation, claiming that Lobster 207 spread misrepresentations of the family’s and restaurant’s behavior.
Things turned sour in 2019, according to the Pettegrows, when Lobster 207 realized that its entry into the wholesale business was “far afield of the grand plans it had to increase union membership, union fees, and to reduce lobster prices,” the new counterclaim read.
According to the counterclaim, rather than improve the business, Lobster 207 instead chose to scapegoat the Trenton Bridge Lobster Pound and the Pettegrows by blaming them for the business’s failure, smearing the family, firing Warren and then breaching the agreement to buy the lobster pound’s excess lobsters.
“In an effort to extinguish its contractual obligations and evade its responsibilities and commitments… Lobster 207 asserted civil RICO claims accusing the Pettegrows of engaging in criminal racketeering and common law fraud claims, and made Trenton Bridge, Anthony and Josette Pettegrow, and worst of all its CEO of two-years, Warren, the scapegoats for its own massive failings and poor business practices,” the counterclaim reads.
Lobster 207 filed a suit in 2019 claiming that the family, restaurant and other individuals engaged in a systematic scheme of racketeering to enrich themselves at the expense of Lobster 207.
The new counterclaim highlights Trenton Bridge Lobster Pound’s accusations that Lobster 207’s struggled to break into the market and secure credit. Because of those struggles, the Pettegrows said that Lobster 207’s overarching union would face imminent losses if Lobster 207 defaulted, burdening the union members.
To convince Lobster 207’s executive board to reduce its debt to avoid default, the Pettergrows say the union made false and fraudulent statements about Warren’s performance so they could fire him in order to get out of compensating him.
The Pettegrows have asked the federal judge to grant them a jury trial.
A judge had previously placed a $1.43 million attachment on the Pettegrows’ assets. An attachment prevents a defendant from disposing of real estate and establishes a trustee process over financial assets.
Lobster 207 has made several claims of schemes perpetrated by the Pettegrow family including directing Lobster 207 trucks to unload higher-quality lobster at the Trenton Bridge Lobster Pound so they could be sold back to Lobster 207 at a higher-quality price under the guise of unused lobsters from the restaurant; selling “phantom” lobsters that were never actually sold or delivered; and Warren pocketing the 10-cent-per-pound premiums that Lobster 207 decided to pay its members.
Lobster 207 also said that among the list of 132 wholesale customers that were part of the sale, only nine were actual wholesale customers and the rest were either defunct businesses or customers that used a lobster broker, something Lobster 207 could have dealt with without buying the Trenton Bridge Lobster Pound’s wholesale company.
Attorneys for Lobster 207 and the Pettegrows did not return requests for comment on the new counterclaim. When reached by phone last week, Anthony Pettegrow said he was advised by his lawyer not to comment.