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Lawyer Sues Over Money ‘Lost in Space.’


Thursday, February 24, 2000

By Leigh Jones
New York Law Journal
Monday, January 24, 2000

MINEOLA – Though a Catholic priest, a retired New York City police detective and local attorney Anthony Ballato never received the $9,000 “Lost in Space” robots they ordered, the Massapequa lawyer has snagged a $70,000 judgment against the California merchandiser – at least on paper.

In a pro se action before Nassau County Supreme Court Justice Joseph DeMaro, Mr. Ballato won a judgment last week against Icons Authentic Replicas for breach of contract and fraud under Article 2 of the Uniform Commercial Code.

>Ballato v. Icons Authentic Replicas, 99-020357, filed in August, stemmed from Mr. Ballato’s payment for an $8,000, seven-foot reproduction of the robot B-9 from the 1960s Irwin Allen television series, which he ordered by fax after visiting the Burbank, Calif. company’s Web site.

Catalog With Tape

The company’s catalog was included in the packaging of a video — the 1998 movie remake of “Lost in Space” – which Mr. Ballato purchased last year. The video was distributed by New Line Cinema.

In its catalog, Icons included testimonials from original “Lost in Space” stars such as Jonathan Harris, Bill Mumy and Bob May.

Icons’ telephone answering machine directs customers to fax any correspondence due to a “company-wide restructuring.” Attempts to fax Icons were unsuccessful.

The lawsuit also named Icons Classics,, Never Were Toys and Icons’ founder James Latta as defendants.

In a one-day trial, Mr. Ballato presented evidence of “dozens” of other disgruntled consumers who had paid Icons for sci-fi replicas advertised on the company’s Web site – some priced at more than $12,000 – that were never delivered.

Priest Victimized

One, Father Randy Cain, a pastor with the St. John Newmann Catholic Parish in Laredo, Tex., said he paid $18,000 for two robots — one for himself and one for a raffle at his church.

In a letter to Mr. Latta, Father Cain wrote that he obtained a personal loan for $10,000 to buy the robot and sent a check to the company for $9,000. He added, “About a month after placing the order, I stumbled across the Icons e-mail club on the Internet and was shocked to learn about numerous complaints against the company.

“I must pay back a loan from my meager priest’s salary for a period of years for a product I will never see,” he wrote in his letter.

Father Cain added that he also faces the “embarrassing” task of meeting with his parish’s finance council concerning the $9,000 from the church coffers that he used to buy the robot to be raffled.

Another exasperated customer is Winston Dunlop, a retired detective with the New York City Police Department.

In a telephone interview Thursday, Mr. Dunlop said he paid Icons about $6,500 for a B-9 robot, after he saw a prototype at a sci-fi expo in New Jersey two years ago. A collector of comic books and sci-fi memorabilia, he was to receive his robot in December 1998.

After repeated telephone calls and written correspondence to the company, Mr. Dunlop said “there’s no chance of getting my money back from Icons.”

Catalog Copy

The catalog that Mr. Ballato received from Icons boasted of its “immense new production facility,” and “towering shelves . . . where lines of full-size Terminator and ‘Lost in Space’ robots are being assembled.” The brochure continues, “It takes one’s breath away to realize just how far Icons has come in such a short amount of time.”

The company’s Web site convinced Mr. Ballato that the firm was legitimate, he said.

The attorney, who said he has uncovered about 15 lawsuits pending against Icons, argued that Icons represented the original robot’s worth as $250,000 and the replica’s at $50,000. Mr. Ballato also argued that his credit card was billed in full for the merchandise before the company manufactured or shipped the goods, contrary to contract law.

Ruling that Icons breached its contract and committed intentional fraud, Judge DeMaro ordered the company to pay $42,000 in compensatory damages and $25,000 in punitive damages plus interest of $1,222.

Mr. Ballato said he will retain counsel in California to recover the judgment.

According to Anthony Ballato, “dozens” of disgruntled consumers purchased the Robot, as advertised on the Web site. The site no longer exists.