A controversial Naples business owner faces an unusual lawsuit involving a sports betting website.
The lawsuit, filed in Collier County Circuit Court earlier this year, is against Oakes Farms — and its owner Alfie Oakes and vice president Steven Veneziano.
In the suit, Andrew Moste accuses Oakes Farms and Veneziano of conversion and unjust enrichment of money obtained through his online account with DraftKings, a fantasy sports gambling website.
Moste claims Veneziano used his account to make bets, then left him with the tax bill for the winnings.
Steven Bracci, who represents all of the defendants, describes the complaint as “baseless” and Moste as a “disgruntled former independent contractor of Oakes Farms,” who “knowingly consented” to the creation of a “legitimate recreational account” on DraftKings with Veneziano.
“The plaintiff is choosing to name Oakes Farms and Alfie Oakes to cast them in a false light as a tactic to extract a settlement payout,” Bracci said. “Oakes Farms will not be coerced into settlements based on frivolous complaints made by desperate individuals.”
Neither Moste, nor his attorney, could immediately be reached for comment about the lawsuit, filed in August.
According to its website, DraftKings runs daily, weekly and season-long contests for fantasy sports, including NFL football.
Here’s how it works: Users draft their lineup of players, then watch them rack up points based on their performance. If the chosen players win enough points, betters can win cash prizes.
The cost to make bets depends on the sports and contests users choose. DraftKings makes its money through entry fees, which pay the prize pot.
DraftKings takes a 10% cut of the fees, paying everything else out as cash prizes, which sometimes can run into the millions of dollars.
High profile owner
Over the past few years, Alfie Oakes, the owner of Oakes Farms, Seed to Table and Food and Thought in Naples, has made local headlines for his political and social activism — sparking controversy.
More recently he’s openly violated and challenged Collier County’s mask order, which he argues is unconstitutional, arbitrary, discriminatory and unenforceable in a federal lawsuit he brought over it. The suit is still pending.
The county’s mask mandate requires workers and customers at many businesses in unincorporated Collier County — outside of city limits — to wear facial coverings over their nose and mouth when social distancing isn’t possible in an effort to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Oakes has publicly described the virus as a “hoax,” and vowed not to enforce it at his stores, making it optional. He’s also challenged the validity of the Black Lives Matter movement, arguing that all lives should matter.
In the civil suit brought by Moste, Oakes has found himself on the opposite end of a very different kind of legal fight.
Moste’s suit seems to primarily target Veneziano, who has worked at Oakes Farms for eight years, according to his LinkedIn profile.
In his lawsuit, Moste claims his problems started shortly after going to work for Oakes Farms in 2018, when Veneziano asked to use his account on the DraftKings website.
While he had second thoughts, Moste said he agreed to the request, feeling pressured by his “boss” to do so.
Only later, Moste claims, did he find out that Veneziano got banned from the site.
Within weeks of allowing Veneziano to use his account, Moste said he “grew uneasy about the arrangement” after noticing the large amounts of money getting deposited and withdrawn from his linked bank account for entry fees and bets and thinking about the tax implications.
Moste said he told Veneziano to stop using his identity on DraftKings, but he continued to do it anyway.
When Moste shared his worries about any tax liability in a text message, he claims Veneziano brushed it off, replying back: “We’ll be good my guy says no worries … I would never screw you. Not spending all the money.”
When his bank account no longer showed activity by Veneziano on DraftKings, Moste said he thought his problems had ended.
Months later, however, Moste said he found out Veneziano had continued to use his identify without his knowledge, switching to an Oakes Farms’ bank account to support his sports betting hobby instead.
As a result, Moste claims he received a tax form at the end of 2018 showing more than $216,000 in winnings.
More than $181,000 of the total winnings, Moste alleges, came after Veneziano led him to believe that he’d quit using his identity on DraftKings.
Based on the total winnings, Moste claims an accountant told him he’d be on the hook for $93,000 in taxes.
A copy of the tax form, sent to Moste’s home address in Immokalee by DraftKings, shows the total amount of winnings he alleges under other income.
Moste said Veneziano, who kept all or most of the winnings, promised to indemnify — or compensate — him for any tax liability numerous times, then refused to do so.
When told about the taxes owed, Veneziano offered up a box of losing scratch-off tickets, Moste alleges, suggesting that he use them to falsely claim gambling losses to offset the winnings under his name.
When he didn’t accept the offer, Moste said Veneziano told him he’d talk to Oakes about finding another solution.
Then, Moste said, Oakes proposed that he not claim the winnings on his tax return and offered to write him a check annually for 7 years to cover the taxes if the IRS should audit him and determine he owed money on the gains — another idea Moste claims he refused to take part in.
In their answers to the complaint, the defendants vehemently dispute Moste’s characterization of the events as they happened.
Veneziano denies that he was ever Moste’s boss and that Moste was ever employed by Oakes Farms, describing him as an independent contractor for Sales Logistics LLC when they started working together in 2018.
Veneziano denies that Moste felt pressured to allow the use of his name — or identity — on DraftKings.
When asked to do so, Veneziano said he stopped using Moste’s bank account for the bets. At the time, he said, Moste never asked him to quit using his identity on the website, so he continued doing it.
Veneziano said Moste knowingly agreed to the arrangement, then refused to share tax reporting documents needed to “remedy any issue of accounting.”
“Plaintiff has also changed his story multiple times to manufacture a false monetary claim against the defendants that is in fact meritless,” Veneziano states in his defense.
In their answer to the complaint, Alfie Oakes and Oakes Farms make similar arguments, including that Moste has “changed his story multiple times.”
Moste seeks a jury trial and more than $181,000 in damages from the defendants, as well as any other relief the “court deems proper.”
The defendants are asking the court for a judgment against Moste and a ruling that he “take nothing by this action.”