updated 1/2/2007 4:53:30 PM ET 2007-01-02T21:53:30

A rejected suitor for the Hard Rock chain of cafes and casinos claims in a lawsuit that the Seminole Tribe of Florida was the successful buyer because of improper collusion and bid-rigging.

The Baltimore-based development firm The Cordish Co. and an affiliate, Power Plant Entertainment LLC, contend that Hard Rock Cafe International Inc. management secretly negotiated with the Seminoles for seven months before plans to sell were announced in July.

Power Plant, a partnership between Cordish and Coastal Development LLC, was the original developer of the Seminole Hard Rock casinos and hotels in Hollywood and Tampa.

The Seminoles announced the $965 million purchase of the Hard Rock empire from London-based Rank Group PLC on Dec. 7, marking the first time an American Indian tribe had purchased a major international corporation.

The Cordish lawsuit, however, said the company and its banker, Goldman Sachs & Co., were refused the right to bid for the business even though they could have made a larger offer. The lawsuit was filed late Friday in Broward County Circuit Court.

“We were declined the opportunity to bid, which is kind of amazing. We believe we would have prevailed,” said Marty Steinberg, the Miami-based attorney for Cordish.

The Seminoles agreed to keep Hard Rock managers in place and provide them with “additional financial benefits” if the tribe was the successful bidder, according to the lawsuit.

“Their actions were motivated by self-dealing and a desire to enrich themselves,” the lawsuit says.

A spokesman for Hard Rock Cafe International declined comment Tuesday.

In a statement, the Seminoles accused Cordish of being “a sore loser” and insisted the deal went through “a lengthy and open bidding process.”

“This is part of a pattern of Cordish obstructing the successful enterprises of Seminole Hard Rock Entertainment and the Seminole Tribe of Florida,” the statement said. “The lawsuit has no merit.”

The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages, which could be tripled under Florida law.

The Seminole-Hard Rock deal includes 124 Hard Rock Cafes, four hotels, two casino hotels, two concert venues and stakes in three unbranded hotels. Rank shareholders are scheduled to vote next Monday on whether to approve the sale.

Allegations of bid-rigging were also made in a separate lawsuit by Power Plant against investment banker Merrill Lynch, a financial adviser to the Seminole tribe. That lawsuit, filed in Miami-Dade Circuit Court in December, contends that Power Plant was stopped from making a deal to cash out its interests in the Florida casinos because of improper pressure from the Seminoles.

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