Candy crushed: Miguel Cabrera’s business crumbles amid financial woes

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera tries on a paper crown for crunchy candy BitBits, which was Miggy Foods' first product in the United States, during a promotion at Comerica Park in May 2017.

Bitbits have gone bye-bye.

Miguel Cabrera's candy company, officially launched in 2016 and rolled out in grand fashion at Comerica Park in May 2017, has melted down into dueling lawsuits.

Cabrera and his umbrella company, Miggy Foods, sued first last July, claiming his two business partners financially mismanaged the company, spending lavishly on themselves and luxurious office space, even as the business wasn't making a nickel of profit.

The partners, Venezuelan businessman Daniel Satine and Venezuelan marketing professional Yajaira Gonzalez, responded and countersued this month, claiming Cabrera, the company's majority shareholder, became despondent and all but abandoned the company as his personal life was in turmoil.

Each side is suing for in excess of $750,000 in damages.

It appears Miggy Foods is no longer in operation. While its website still is live, it hasn't updated in more than a year and nobody answered the phone number listed; the social-media accounts also are idle, with its last Instagram post coming in July 2017.

The Bitbits, crunchy candy that came in four flavors — milk chocolate, chocolate and peanuts, strawberry cheesecake and white chocolate — don't appear to be available anymore, not even on Amazon.

Cabrera, 36, the Tigers' superstar first baseman, and wife Rosangel claim they lost more than $2.1 million on the business venture, as the company's sole investors.

Miggy Foods was launched in March 2016 — nearly two years after Satine had a chance run-in with Hector Sanchez, head of Cabrera's charity foundation.

Cabrera agreed to get into business with Satine, who originally had pitched him the idea of a cereal, "Strike Ball, with his likeness on the box, and a 10-percent stake in the company. Cabrera liked the candy idea better, and eventually bought in as a 70-percent shareholder; Gonzalez owned the remaining 30 percent. And Bitbits were born.

Things took off fast on the marketing side of things, even with the unveiling of a mascot, "Chris the Crown," which celebrated Cabrera's historic Triple-Crown season of 2012. Miggy Foods entered into a two-year, $485,000 sponsorship deal with the NFL's Miami Dolphins, and a two-year, $729,000 deal with the Tigers. Miggy Foods' long-term goal was to get Bitbits into even more sports stadiums. A meeting between the Miami Marlins, and their owner Derek Jeter, and Cabrera was set up.

Bitbits soon was available in stores like Publix, Winn Dixie, Sedanos, Navarro and Forever 21. There were billboards, sampling stands around select cities, in-store demos and tastings, and many more events. Satine and Gonzalez projected millions in profits, and fast. That never happened.

James Jewell, 9, of Grosse Pointe Woods makes a catch and has his photo taken at the Miggy's Bitbits display in front of the ballpark before a May 2017 game.

Early signs of trouble with the business came in January 2018, when Houston Astros star Jose Altuve accepted a proposal from Cabrera to join the company with his picture on a cereal box called “Champs.” (Altuve and the Astros had just won the World Series.) A media unveiling was hastily assembled, and neither Cabrera nor Altuve showed up. When Satine got a hold of Altuve, Altuve said Cabrera was supposed to pick him up, but never showed up, according to the countersuit.

By February 2018, just nine months after the raucous rollout at the Comerica Park, the Tigers, Cabrera's own employer, had come calling over a missed payment.

That was one of several mounting overdue bills, according to Satine and Gonzalez.

In March 2018, Satine requested a meeting with Cabrera over the "growing crisis" with Miggy Foods, and Cabrera allegedly didn't respond.

In April 2018, Satine sent Cabrera a "happy-birthday" text message, starting a brief dialogue in which Cabrera told Satine that his wife Rosangel was now handling the business "because these are the people that have my money sequestered," according to notarized text messages in the lawsuit.

Around this same time, Cabrera was deep into a lawsuit filed by an ex-mistress, claiming she was due up to $100,000 per month in child support for two children Cabrera had fathered with her. That lawsuit was filed in August 2017, and Rosangel had petitioned for divorce, but withdrew the request later that year.

More:Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera owes ex-mistress $12K/month, for now

More:Henning: Are Miguel Cabrera’s days in Detroit numbered?

That case continues to drag on, with a judge in Florida considering whether to reverse a January 2019 decision that ordered Cabrera to pay $20,000 per month, plus other expenses.

Meanwhile, Satine and Gonzalez allege Rosangel Cabrera was out to get rid of the candy company.

In May 2018, Satine and Cabrera texted again, and things got a little more terse.

Cabrera called the company a "disaster," to which Satine responded, "Miguel forgive me but we don't have any disaster."

Cabrera: "Over here we work in an organized manner period."

Satine: "Miguel partnerships cannot be handled this way."

These text messages had a decidedly different tenor than a thread from Oct. 8, 2017, in which Cabrera texted Satine that he loves him "like a brother."

A young fan wears a Bitbits crown during a Tigers game at Comerica Park in May 2017.

Cabrera eventually did agree to pump another $300,000 into the company, according to Satine and Gonzalez, but that wasn't enough to get the company out of trouble. So Satine and Gonzalez turned to a banker and secured a larger amount, but Cabrera allegedly said no to the loan.

In June 2018, Angel Polanco, Cabrera's brother in law and the "P" in the Cabreras' company 2C&P, arrived at Miggy Foods' offices in Miami, along with three other Miggy Foods board members, and demanded to see company documents.

Later that day, June 4, Satine and Gonzalez received emails that they had been fired, and a short while later, all Miggy Foods employees were terminated.

At a September 2018 shareholders meeting, board members approved a reverse stock split plan, which essentially rendered Gonzalez's 300,000 shares worthless, according to Satine and Gonzalez.

In his lawsuit, Cabrera lays the blame squarely on Satine and Gonzalez, accusing them of using the Miggy Foods ledger as their "own personal piggy bank." Cabrera claims they spent too lavishly on office space, paying $5,100 a month — under a three-year lease — for a 1,708-square foot office in Miami.

Cabrera alleges Satine and Gonzalez drew salaries in excess of $300,000 in 2017, that the 10 employees hired by Miggy Foods also were overpaid, and that Satine and Gonzalez used company credit cards for personal shopping sprees, like $600 that Satine spent at Brooks Brothers.

The Cabreras also criticized the early and expensive sponsorship with the Miami Dolphins, alleging that deal was done so Satine and Gonzalez could secure tickets, merchandise and field passes.

Cabrera has been with the Tigers since 2008, and has five years and $154 million left on his contract. The two-time MVP is trying to revive a Hall-of-Fame career that has been derailed by a series of injuries. Through 20 games this season, Cabrera is batting .267 and has yet to hit a home run.

Twitter: @tonypaul1984