Del Mar Deputy Mayor Richard Earnest, chief executive officer of Grrreen, a new plug-in hybrid company, has severed ties with the startup's co-founder, John Wong, he said recently.
Several legal judgments against Wong, including fraud, were brought to Earnest's attention by two attorneys who said they are concerned about Wong's business practices.
"I'm building a company based on my experience and my own reputation in the market," Earnest said. "If I've got somebody in the company that people are asking questions about their past, whether it's true or not, it doesn't matter, I could not move forward with that."
Wong, who also has used the last name Wang, disputed the findings of fraud in a 2005 judgment against him as the founder of an electric scooter company called Rad2Go.
"I never went to [the investors], gave them a business plan and asked them to invest," Wong said.
More than 25 civil court lawsuits have been filed in the past nine years against Wong (either as Wong or Wang) or his companies in San Diego, Nevada and Illinois for unpaid balances ranging from a few thousand dollars to more than $200,000. Many have resulted in judgments and liens against Wong.
Wong said he did not have the funds to defend all the cases, but was suing National Sporting Goods and JC Penney for allegedly putting Rad2Go out of business.
Holley Hoffman, former deputy attorney general of California, represented Wong in the Rad2Go lawsuit against JC Penney. Hoffman asked to be removed as the attorney of record because she said she discovered he allegedly misled investors, according to court documents.
Hoffman has filed a lawsuit against Wong for unpaid attorney's fees.
Attorney Johnny Manriquez assisted Hoffman on intellectual property aspects of the Rad2Go case. He said he has also stopped working for Wong because he questioned Wong's ethics.
The two shared their concerns with Earnest after reading about him starting Grrreen with Wong in this newspaper.
Wong has filed a formal complaint with the state bar association against Hoffman and Manriquez for breaching attorney-client confidentiality and payment agreements. A spokeswoman for the bar association said they do not confirm cases being investigated. No records of charges or a decision were available on the bar Web site at press time.
Earnest said Wong was never an officer or shareholder in Grrreen and no longer has any ties to the company. The company continues developing electric hybrid conversion kits, but is focusing on management services for lithium batteries in the next year.
"We still feel very positive about what we're doing," Earnest said.
Wong said he is pursuing another business venture with electric vehicles, called Innomotion.