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Retailer: Rival CEO posed as exec to get secrets

TRENTON, N.J. — The chief executive of a sporting goods chain who once appeared on the TV show ‘‘Undercover Boss’’ pretended to be an executive from a rival company in an effort to get confidential information, according to a lawsuit.

Dick’s Sporting Goods claims in a lawsuit filed Feb. 20 that Mitchell Modell, chief executive of Modell’s Sporting Goods, showed up at a Dick’s store in Princeton in February saying he was a Dick’s senior vice president. The lawsuit was first reported Friday by The Record newspaper.

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Dick’s alleges Modell told employees he was to meet the Dick’s chief executive there and persuaded workers to show him the backroom of the store and to answer questions about the business. Modell gathered information about online sales, including a ‘‘ship from store’’ program, the lawsuit said.

Retailers spy on each other all the time. In his autobiography, Sam Walton writes about covert shopping trips to keep tabs on rivals like Kmart and Price Club. But if the lawsuit’s allegations are true, this appears to be a particularly egregious case. It is rare that a CEO would actually get caught misrepresenting himself to store employees, experts say.

A Dick’s spokesman said company policy prevented him from commenting on pending litigation. A Modell’s spokesman was not immediately available to comment Friday.

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