Lawsuit alleges Purdue breached contract in Peru projects

Siblings who contacted Purdue University about helping to lower the alpaca mortality rate in their native Peru are now suing, claiming the West Lafayette school has garnered millions of dollars from additional projects they helped establish but is refusing to pay them for their work.

Ricardo Torreblanca and his sister Paola Torreblanca-Fischer have filed a breach of contract complaint against Purdue, asserting the university owes them more that $1.35 million. The complaint, Ricard Torreblanca, Paola Torreblanca-Fischer, ALNICO, LLC and CORE Foundation v. The Trustees of Purdue University, 79D01-2012-PL-000183, was filed in Tippecanoe Circuit Court Monday.

According to the lawsuit, the Torreblancas, who were born in Peru and are now American citizens, helped connect Purdue University with universities and government agencies in Peru. The goal was to work jointly on projects that would improve the lives of the residents in that South American country.

The Torreblancas claim they helped foster relationships that resulted in Purdue getting paid millions. They said officials at Purdue had agreed to pay them a 10% commission, but after several projects were launched, the university reneged.

Carmel attorney Terry Noffsinger of Kooi Law is representing the Torreblancas.

“My clients had the utmost trust in Purdue,” he said. “They took on a huge task to promote the university in their home country of Peru to do educational and research projects. Using their knowledge of the country and its leaders, it resulted in millions of dollars being paid to Purdue for work it did in South America. But after doing all that Purdue requested, and bringing this work to it, the university double-crossed them. It refused to honor its promise to pay them even though the work had already been done. My clients did not want to file this lawsuit, but Purdue gave them no choice.”

In a statement, Purdue said, “We are aware of the lawsuit but have not yet been served. Purdue disputes the allegations and will vigorously defend against them.”

The Torreblancas established the nonprofit CORE Foundation in 2015 specifically to develop working relationships with different Peruvian universities and government agencies.

In May 2016, they met with Willie Reed and William Smith II of the department of veterinary medicine at Purdue, the complaint states. The parties discussed collaborating on a project to lower the death rate of the alpaca population, which was dying in rural communities because of low temperatures and starvation.

After two Purdue professors traveled to Peru with the Torreblancas, it became clear a “much larger, multidisciplinary effort was needed to tackle the many other problems in Peru,” the complaint stated.

This led to a memorandum of understanding between CORE and Purdue in November 2016. The complaint notes the memorandum was to “facilitate the launching of educational and research cooperation activities and the development of contacts between staff of the two institutions to pursue mutually cooperative activities.”

Also in November 2016, the Torreblancas traveled to Peru and met with officials at the Universidad Nacional de San Agustin Arequipa, the Governor of Arequipa and the president of the chamber of commerce, according to the complaint.

Those meetings were the genesis for what was to be known as the NEXUS Project. According to the complaint, this was “a technical alliance between Purdue and UNSA (Universidad Nacional de San Agustin Arequipa) that includes research and education to address areas of food security and safety, water and air quality, energy efficiency, soil health and productivity, social conflict identification and resolution models, and holistic watershed management.”

After an agreement was signed between Purdue and other Peruvian entities, Tomas Diaz de La Rubia, chief scientist and executive director of Purdue University Discovery Park, and Cliff Wojtalewicz, director of operations and administration of Purdue Discovery Park, met with the Torreblancas, the complaint stated.

“Because of the scope of the project — requiring more networking, negotiations, and connecting people and departments to catalyze a potential project of more than $51 Million,” the Purdue professors instructed the Torreblancas to establish a for-profit company to facilitate payments to them for the projects that Purdue was developing for UNSA, according to the complaint. The brother and sister subsequently established ALNICO, LLC, a for-profit corporation.

In August 2017, Wojtalewicz proposed the Torreblancas be paid a 10% commission of the gross amounts paid by UNSA to Purdue for each NEXUS project.

The Torreblancas accepted the proposal but were told the contract would not be signed until the funding was received. They continued helping Purdue and 21 projects were eventually approved, according to the complaint.

On Jan. 17, 2018, UNSA officially approved payment for the first $7.29 million for 10 projects, the complaint stated. The remaining $4.46 million was paid in 2019.

Again, the Torreblancas inquired about the contract and were told something would be sent to ALNICO soon.

According to the complaint, the Torreblancas trusted the university because they believed the Purdue Honor Pledge: “As a Boilermaker pursuing academic excellence, I pledge to be honest and true in all that I do. Accountable together – We are Purdue.”

However, the Torreblancas still did not have a contract. After the celebration kicking off the UNSA-Purdue Strategic Alliance & NEXUS Institute, they again inquired about their commission. According to the complaint, Diaz de La Rubia responded in an email, “As I have already told you a 10% commission on each project is not going to happen. It’s simply not negotiable, and the university will never agree to it.”

According to the complaint, this was the first the Torreblancas were informed about any denial of what they had agreed upon with Purdue in 2017.

Other projects have also come to fruition for which the Torreblancas should be compensated, the complaint stated. These include an additional phase of the NEXUS project for which funding is estimated to be $50 million.

The complaint stated, “Purdue is obligated to pay the Plaintiffs for this and other similar projects between Purdue and UNSA which would have only resulted from the work and collaboration of ALNICO/CORE Foundation.”

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