Peter Halmos has struck again.
The founder and former chairman of SafeCard Services Inc., the company best known for a credit card loss-protection service marketed through banks and retailers, has filed a lawsuit against American Express Co.
Carrying forward a legal battle that has raged since his ouster from SafeCard at the end of 1992, Mr. Halmos accused the New York-based financial services company with fraud, stock manipulation, conspiracy, and breach of contract.
He contends that American Express stole SafeCard's marketing techniques while the companies were working together from 1983 to 1992, with the intent of enriching First Data Resources Inc., then an American Express subsidiary.
Named as defendants in the suit, filed in Dade County, Fla., Circuit Court, were American Express and its travel-related services company; former president Louis V. Gerstner Jr., now chairman of International Business Machines Corp.; former general counsel Lawrence Ricciardi, now IBM's vice president and general counsel; and First Data Resources, the credit card processing unit of First Data Corp., Hackensack, N.J.
In a press release describing the action, Mr. Halmos referred to a joint venture in which SafeCard provided promotional and operating support to "American Express' ailing credit card registry business."
American Express had agreed to preserve the confidentiality of information provided by Mr. Halmos and SafeCard, and to "indemnify and hold harmless Mr. Halmos personally" from any resulting liability, he said.
Mr. Halmos charged that American Express "misappropriated and misused" the information that he provided through a scheme known internally as the "Blue Box" plan.
American Express, according to Mr. Halmos, sought to destroy SafeCard and position First Data Resources as a "major player" in the credit card registration and enhancement market and toward this end, the company plotted to diminish SafeCard's market share and stock market value.
The end result, said Mr. Halmos, was the well-publicized litigation filed against him by SafeCard and its shareholders, which led to his series of suits against the company he founded in 1969.
For its part, SafeCard has accused Mr. Halmos of abusing his position at the company while misappropriating and misusing corporate funds and assets. Both sides are seeking multimillion-dollar damage awards.
American Express is dismissing Mr. Halmos and his conspiracy theory.
"As anybody who has seen his ads in The Wall Street Journal knows, Mr. Halmos has been an active litigant," said Susan Miller, an American Express spokeswoman. "The charges he makes are completely without merit."
Ms. Miller pointed out that Mr. Halmos was standing alone in this fight, undermining his contention that SafeCard was wounded by American Express actions. "SafeCard is not a party to the lawsuit - it's brought solely by him," she said.
While many observers describe Mr. Halmos' lawsuits as the desperate flailing of a bitter man, they have been a major headache for Paul Kahn, chairman of SafeCard's parent, Ideon Group, whose leadership has recently faced criticism from analysts.
Calling wider attention to his fight, Mr. Halmos has used full-page ads in Journal to plead his case to a wider public.