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Forum owners allege 'fraudulent scheme' in lawsuit over proposed Clippers arena

The owners of the Forum alleged in a lawsuit filed Monday that Inglewood Mayor James T. Butts Jr. orchestrated a “fraudulent scheme” to clear the way for a proposed arena near the iconic sports and entertainment venue.

The 46-page complaint by the Madison Square Garden Co. in Los Angeles County Superior Court is the latest escalation in the company’s fight against the privately-financed project — potentially a new home for the Clippers — announced in June.

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“Unfortunately, the shocking and outrageous conduct of the Mayor, City officials and others have forced us to seek accountability in the courts in order to protect the Forum,” Marvin Putnam, the Latham & Watkins attorney who filed the lawsuit on behalf of MSG, said in a statement.

In addition to Butts, Inglewood’s city council, two city-related agencies and Murphy’s Bowl LLC, the Clippers-controlled company behind the arena, are named in the complaint.

“The L.A. Clippers are committed to a fully transparent, publicly-reviewed project that will bring thousands of new jobs and massive economic benefits to the City of Inglewood and its residents,” Chris Meany, the arena project manager, said in a statement. “MSG has been threatening a lawsuit for months and while we only just received a copy, it appears there are no new issues that weren’t previously made and dismissed by the City of Inglewood.”

Butts said he hadn’t reviewed the complaint.

The lawsuit, which accuses the parties of fraud and breach of contract, largely mirrors two claims for damages MSG filed with Inglewood last year. The city denied both claims.

MSG alleged in the complaint that Butts tricked the company last year into terminating a lease to use vacant city-owned land for overflow parking — many of the same parcels where an arena could be built — in order to develop a technology park.

After MSG agreed in April to terminate its parking lease with Inglewood, the company didn’t learn of the city’s negotiations with Murphy’s Bowl until hours before the public announcement in June. Inglewood’s city council approved a 36-month exclusive negotiating agreement with Murphy’s Bowl that included a nonrefundable $1.5-million deposit to cover the city’s costs to explore the project.

The lawsuit claims the arena would violate MSG’s development agreement with Inglewood and accuses Murphy’s Bowl of interfering in the contract. MSG believes the agreement protects it against the construction of a competing venue less than a mile away and the project would “threaten the economic competitiveness of the Forum and directly undermine the purposes and objectives of the Development Agreement.”

The complaint seeks a court order barring Inglewood from pursuing the arena in addition to unspecified monetary damages.

MSG sued Inglewood in July over public records related to negotiations with the Clippers — the case is ongoing — and spent more than $750,000 last fall to lobby against an ultimately unsuccessful state senate bill that would’ve fast-tracked the project.

Last month Inglewood published the notice of preparation of a draft environmental impact report for the Inglewood Basketball and Entertainment Center along West Century Boulevard. The project described in the document would include an 18,000-seat arena that also could host concerts, a practice facility, sports medicine clinic, team offices, retail space and an outdoor plaza with basketball courts open to the public.

About 85% of the land under consideration for the project, about 23 acres, is vacant.

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Still, the effort remains in the early stages. The environmental review is expected to take 18 months. And the Clippers have a lease to play at Staples Center through 2024.

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