A McCreary County company used dirty tricks to try to knock a competitor out of contention for lucrative U.S. military contracts, a federal lawsuit charges.
Outdoor Venture Corp. and its president, J.C Egnew, had someone take aerial photos of the home, swimming pool and office of a woman who runs the competing company, and Egnew gave a federal official "intimate details" of the woman's life, the lawsuit claims.
The goal was to discredit and frighten the owner of Camel Manufacturing, which won an $8.3 million contract to supply tents to the Army that Outdoor Venture contested, the lawsuit says.
Outdoor Venture's attorney, D. Duane Cook, said the allegations are ludicrous.
"OVC and J.C. Egnew plan to defend this case vigorously," Cook said this week.
The lawsuit pits two of the nation's major military-tent suppliers against each other.
Camel Manufacturing, which is in Caryville, Tenn., says on its Web site that it supplies 45 percent of the armed forces tent market.
Outdoor Venture, based in the historical coal town of Stearns, said in a recent unrelated lawsuit that it has been awarded more than 270 federal contracts since 1984 to make tents and tarpaulins.
The company, which also makes non-military products, is the largest private employer in McCreary County, one of the poorest counties in the nation.
The company has about 200 workers, according to the Web site of the state Cabinet for Economic Development. That accounts for nearly all the manufacturing jobs in the county.
Attorneys representing April B. Harris, the owner, president and chief executive of Camel Manufacturing, filed the lawsuit in federal court in London against Egnew and Outdoor Venture.
The complaint says Egnew worked at Camel for three years beginning in 1969 but had a business dispute with its management and left in 1972 before moving to McCreary County and helping found Outdoor Venture.
The two companies have competed for military contracts since 1984.
The military awarded Camel the $8.37 million contract in July. It was a no-bid contract open only to the Tennessee company.
The military said it did that because dwindling demand for military tents threatens the future of the small number of companies that can supply them, so it was necessary to give Camel Manufacturing work to sustain the company, the lawsuit says.
Outdoor Venture contested the award. It had a right to do that, but its methods crossed the line, the lawsuit alleges.
In addition to aerial surveillance photos of Harris' home and swimming pool, the bid protest by Outdoor Venture and Egnew included information about Harris' Florida vacation home and the fact that she and her husband had sponsored a fund-raising event for a Knoxville-area nature center, the lawsuit says.
Egnew also discussed with an Army official the intimate details of Harris' lifestyle, and information about her daughter's private wedding, according to the complaint.
S. Derek Bauer, an Atlanta attorney representing Harris, declined to describe what private details of Harris' life Egnew allegedly discussed.
"We really are concerned with his abuse of privacy," Bauer said of Egnew.
Outdoor Venture hired someone to take photos at Harris' home and business, according to the lawsuit, and she thinks someone followed her and her family.
The purpose of providing the information was to intimidate Harris, poison her relationship with her company's only client and eliminate the company as a competitor on future contracts, the lawsuit charges.
The conduct of Egnew and Outdoor Venture has caused Harris to feel harassed and threatened, the lawsuit says.
She has suffered humiliation, stress, fear and paranoia, the lawsuit says. Recently, she left a conference after realizing Egnew was there, and she has updated her home security system with video surveillance cameras, a bedside panic button and a wireless remote panic button to use while she's outside, the lawsuit says.
Cook denied that Outdoor Venture had commissioned aerial photos of Harris' home or hired a private investigator to gather information on her.
"There was no stalking. There was no fly-over. There was no trespass," Cook said.
The information in Outdoor Venture's bid protest was all publicly available, Cook said.
Cook said Outdoor Venture and Egnew thought it was important to point out Harris' "lavish lifestyle" at a time when her company got a no-bid contract based on a claim that it faced financial straits.
The lawsuit, however, said the information was irrelevant to the contract protest and not a legitimate use of the process.
Harris' personal finances had nothing to do with Camel Manufacturing's viability as a contractor or its eligibility for awards, Bauer said.
There was no contention in Camel Manufacturing's bid that it was in financial difficulty, Bauer said.
The issue was that there are only a handful of companies that can supply military tents, and the government needs to make sure they remain stable, especially when it is fighting two wars, he said.
Bauer said the government dismissed Outdoor Venture's bid protest.
The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages for claimed emotional distress, invasion of privacy, abuse of the bid process and conspiracy.