On Friday, the fight between the Mederos family, owners of the Cubanacan brand, and the González family, who previously made cigars for Cubanacan, entered a courtroom.
Omar González-Alemán, his son Luis O. González, and their companies—Soneros Cigars Zone, Inc. and Industria Tabacalera Los Charutos, S.A.—filed a lawsuit in the Federal District Court of Southern Florida over trademark infringement, violations of a distribution agreement and payments totaling over $800,000.
In July, the González family announced that it was terminating its distribution and production agreements with Cubanacan Cigars. Prior to that, the family—through its Los Charutos Cigar Factory and later La Corona Factory—produced the Cubanacan, H.R., Mederos and Soneros brands, all of which were distributed by Cubanacan Cigars. While Cubanacan owned the eponymous Cubanacan and Mederos brands; the Soneros brand is owned by the González family. In the complaint, Luis O. González alleges that he is the owner of the “H.R.” trademark
The González family also alleges that the they are owed over $800,000 by Cubanacan Cigars due to various unpaid bills.
In regards to Soneros, the complaint alleges that on or around July 2013, the two parties entered a distribution agreement that would see Cubanacan distribute the Soneros brand for the González family. The cigars would be produced in the Los Charutos Cigar Factory in Estelí and then sold by Cubanacan Cigars, the exclusive distributor. Under the agreement, Cubanacan was to pay the Gonzálezes 60 percent of all sales of the brand. Those payments were supposed to be on the fifth day of each month.
The González family claims they have not received any of these payments.
It says that a termination letter was delivered to Cubanacan Cigars on July 9, 2015, which was rejected by Cubanacan’s attorney.
Cubanacan continued to market and presumably sell the brand after July 9, most notably, Soneros was on display in Cubanacan’s booth at the 2015 IPCPR Convention & Trade Show later that month. When asked at the trade show if they were still selling it, a representative of the company told halfwheel they were. The González family is arguing that Cubanacan’s decision to continue marketing the Soneros—and H.R.—brand(s) constitute a trademark violation.
The H.R. brand was launched last year as partnership between Omar González-Alemán, the former factory manager at the La Corona factory in Cuba, Hirochi Robaina, the grandson of the legendary Cuban farmer Alejandro Robaina and Cubanacan. At the time, González-Alemán was still being referred to by Cubanacan as the company’s “master blender.”
As for the H.R. cigars, they were shown off at the 2014 IPCPR Convention & Trade Show and launched with a series of events in the winter of 2014. It was one of the most-talked about cigars of the year and helped the rebranding efforts of Cubanacan, which was setting up a new U.S. salesforce. In July—two days before the González family announced its separation from Cubanacan—Robaina announced that he would be separating from Cubanacan.
In the complaint, the González family claims an agreement was in place where Cubanacan would distribute the H.R. cigars paying the González family 80 percent of the sales. In addition, it claims that Luis O. González has rights to the “H.R.” trademark through a filing made in August 2011. That filing lists the applicant as QUIROGA CIGARS FACTORY, S.A. DE C.V. CORPORATION MEXICO, the same company filed for a trademark on HIROCHI. Both applications are live, but neither mark is fully registered.
A separate trademark for HR 1845 has been filed by CUBA TIANZHIYUAN ROBAINA CIGARS CO. out of Hong Kong. That filing was for an intent to use, whereas the aforementioned H.R. mark claims first use as Dec. 3, 2014, the same date as when the cigar formally debuted.
In addition to the unpaid commissions and manufacturing costs, Luiz González claims that he sent Cubanacan and Robert Mederos, who is named as a defendant, checks amounting to over $130,000. They also claim that the González family paid for the construction of the booth used at the 2014 IPCPR Convention & Trade Show, as well as travel and promotional expenses. It’s unclear based on the complaint if the $130,000 amount includes the travel, promotional and booth costs. It’s also unclear if the González family claims it paid for the construction of the booth in its entirety.
Interestingly, the lawsuit names both Robert Mederos and Juan C. Mederos as defendants. Robert Mederos is oftentimes referred to as the owner of Cubanacan Cigars, but the complaint lists him as a “moving force,” whereas Juan C. Mederos is listed as “president.” A report filed with the State of Florida in January lists Juan C. Mederos as a manager in the company, whereas Alexandra Del Rey is listed as the managing member. Robert Mederos is not listed on that filing. Del Rey was not named in the lawsuit.
Luis O. González did not reply to a text message seeking comment. An email sent to Robert Mederos was also not returned.
Mederos never returned an email in July regarding the announcement from the González about the end of the two parties’ relationships. However, a few days after the story was published, the company issued an eight-paragraph statement where they commented briefly on the departures of Robaina and González. halfwheel was never sent the statement.
The statement was a bit unclear on some matters. It said that it entrusted all paperwork regarding the opening of the La Corona Factory in Estelí to the González-Alemán family, but doesn’t elaborate as to whether it believes Cubanacan had any ownership into the new factory. La Corona opened this spring in the old Nicaragua American Cigars S.A. (NACSA) building.
In the final paragraph, the company said it believed the matters would be resolved in “a court of law.”
For its part, the González family has requested a jury trial.