Jury orders Irish financier to pay $2M in damages to Iowa doctor cut out of ethanol deal

IOWA CITY, Iowa – A wealthy Irish investor must pay $2 million in damages to an Iowa doctor who was cut out of a major ethanol development in eastern Europe, a jury ruled Friday.

Branimir Catipovic, a doctor at the Veterans Affairs hospital in Des Moines, proved his civil claim of unjust enrichment against Dublin entrepreneur Mark Turley, the federal jury in Sioux City ruled. The verdict, which rejected a breach of contract claim, capped a lengthy civil trial.

Catipovic is a Croatia native who moved to the United States. While working at the VA hospital in Mason City, he became fascinated with the ethanol business and came up with an idea: Why not build large, American-style plants in regions of eastern Europe, where corn is also plentiful?

Catipovic worked with industry leader Walt Wendland, who ran an ethanol plant in Mason City, to draw up a detailed business plan. The key, Catipovic said, was using American technology and the most prominent American builder of ethanol plants, Roland Fagen of Minnesota. They pitched the idea to Turley in 2007, and he agreed to invest $40 million in order to be 80 per cent owner. Catipovic and Wendland would each own 10 per cent, and the first plant was to be built in Osijek, Croatia.

Turley later tried to change the terms of the agreement, and the Croatia plan eventually fell apart. Instead, Turley and Fagen built a $200 million plant in Hungary without Catipovic or Wendland, and it’s been very profitable, according to court documents.

Catipovic filed a lawsuit in federal court in 2011 against Turley and Fagen, alleging breach of contract and unjust enrichment. The claims against Fagen were dropped before trial; it’s not clear if there was a settlement.

Turley had argued the federal court didn’t have jurisdiction because he is an Irish citizen. But U.S. District Judge Mark Bennett rejected that claim in 2012, finding that Turley could be sued because of numerous contacts with Catipovic and others in the state to develop the ethanol venture. Catipovic even quit his job for several months to go to Europe to work on the deal at Turley’s urging.

Catipovic, who was seeing patients Friday, said he was grateful for the verdict, which he said holds a powerful businessman accountable for treating him unfairly.

“This is an opportunity that I doubt I would ever get in any country other than in the United States,” he said.

He said he spent long hours putting together the business plan, then Turley “took all of that work, built one in Hungary and cut me out.”

Turley, who has made money in importing and real estate and calls himself one of Ireland’s most successful entrepreneurs, was present for the trial. His lawyers had no immediate comment.