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Published: Thursday, 6/28/2012 - Updated: 2 years ago

Horvath sues Packo's, family over termination

Former co-owner claims breach of Whistleblower Act

BY ERICA BLAKE
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Horvath Horvath
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One of the former owners of Tony Packo's Inc. has sued the company, its new owners, and members of his family, claiming that he was wrongfully terminated in violation of the Whistleblower Act.

Robin Horvath filed the complaint late Tuesday in Lucas County Common Pleas Court. The lawsuit names Packo's as TP Foods LLC and Bennett Management Corp., which purchased the restaurant company after it was in court receivership for more than a year.

Also named were the court-appointed receiver, Skutch Co. Ltd., and individuals Tony Packo III and Tony Packo, Jr.

"There is a causal connection between [Mr. Horvath's] protected activity, whistleblowing, and his termination," the complaint said. The 15-page lawsuit also lists allegations of civil conspiracy and breach of contract.

The complaint was filed by attorney John Franklin, who was not available Wednesday but whose staff said the office "does not comment to the press."

According to the lawsuit, Mr. Horvath was employed by the Packo's company for 30 years, most recently as chief operating officer. In 2009, Mr. Horvath became aware of "financial indiscretions" caused by Mr. Packo III and Cathleen Dooley, the company's controller, the suit said.

The complaint claimed that Mr. Horvath made efforts to determine the accuracy of these allegations and notified the company's board of directors before reporting the information to authorities.

He reported the alleged felonies to members of the Lucas County Prosecutor's Office in July, 2010.

On Dec. 14, Mr. Packo III, 39, and Ms. Dooley, 46, were each indicted on three alternate counts of aggravated theft. They are charged with stealing about $170,000 from Tony Packo's Inc. over a four-year period.

Both remain free on their own recognizance pending an Aug. 13 trial before Judge Frederick McDonald.

Prior to the filing of the criminal charges, the company was placed into receivership.

In February, after a lengthy court battle initiated by Mr. Horvath, the company was sold through court order to businessman Bob Bennett of TP Foods LLC.

At the time, all Packo's employees were informed by the receiver that their employment was terminated and that they would receive notification from TP Foods with an invitation to apply for continued employment.

"Only four employees of defendant Packo's Inc., including [Mr. Horvath], did not receive the letter from TP Food, LLC continuing their employment," the complaint said. "Each of these employees provided information to the Lucas County Prosecutor or assisted in the compilation of that information."

Currently pending in common pleas court before Judge Gene Zmuda are wrongful termination complaints filed by Sue Marchbanks, a former accounting clerk, and Refujio Perez, former director of maintenance.

The lawsuits were filed May 9. According to court records, defendants have until July 9 to respond.

On the same day Mr. Horvath filed his complaint, a separate wrongful termination lawsuit was filed by Jessica Moses, the former assistant manager of the company's central kitchen.

In her lawsuit, also assigned to Judge Zmuda, Ms. Moses claimed she witnessed "on many occasions Packo Jr. and Packo III taking food and/or alcohol out of the Central Kitchen without documenting it."

Ms. Moses said she reported these incidents to Mr. Horvath and later provided information to the county prosecutor's office.

Each of the lawsuits asks for back pay, attorney fees, and damages.

Mr. Bennett could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Contact Erica Blake at: eblake@theblade.com or 419-213-2134.



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