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ORLANDO-In a closely-knit commercial real estate community such as Orlando, the filing of lawsuits by S.I. Goldman Co., one of the largest mechanical contractors in the Southeast, and the company’s former $175,000-a-year president is big news. It’s the first lawsuit of its kind in the suburban Longwood, FL company’s 42-year history.

The $40 million heating, ventilation, air conditioning and plumbing contractor is suing James Ronald Burkett in Orange Circuit Court on charges of client stealing, conspiracy and fraud.

Burkett is countersuing for breach of contract. He was fired, allegedly without cause, in May 2000 after being with S.I. Goldman and its founder, Texas-born Seymour Goldman, for 22 years.

The company’s suit alleges Burkett fraudulently undervalued Goldman’s road-sign division when he bought it for an undisclosed sum in April 1998. That’s the date Houston-based Comfort Systems Inc. merged with S.I. Goldman Co.

Along with the road-sign division, Comfort also sold another Goldman-funded firm, Southeast Fire Sprinklers Inc. of Longwood, FL, to Burkett. His son, Jeff, operates the road-sign business as Southeast Fabricators Inc.

In his countersuit, Ron Burkett denies all of Goldman’s allegations and maintains the road-sign division was never profitable so Goldman can’t claim it was duped in the sale. If Goldman claims losses on the road-sign business, those losses were due to Goldman’s mismanagement or neglect, the Burkett suit charges.

S.I. Goldman Co. and Burkett seek unspecified damages expected to be at least $100,000, real estate lawyers following the case tell GlobeSt.com on condition of anonymity. The Goldman company has worked on every major commercial real estate venture in metro Orlando in the past 22 years.

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