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Published: Friday, 10/12/2012 - Updated: 2 years ago

Founder’s grandson, ex-controller acquitted of theft charges

BY ERICA BLAKE
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Tony Packo III celebrates a not guilty verdict nearly 10 months after initially being charged with theft from his grandfather's famous restaurant. Tony Packo III celebrates a not guilty verdict nearly 10 months after initially being charged with theft from his grandfather's famous restaurant.
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Nearly 10 months after first being charged with stealing from his family company and after being formally acquitted, Tony Packo III said he intends to return to work today to continue helping the iconic restaurant company flourish.

The grandson of the founder of Tony Packo’s restaurants was found not guilty of criminal theft in Lucas County Common Pleas Court on Thursday, as was the company’s former controller, Cathleen Dooley. The verdict followed a two-week trial and only about one hour of jury deliberations.

“The truth was always on our side. We knew that from the beginning,” Mr. Packo said after the verdict.

“Tony Packo’s was something I took very seriously. I was honored to have my name in a place that so many people loved and that was such a part of the community,” he said. “We’re going to do everything we can to help [new owner] Bob Bennett be successful.”

Mr. Packo, 39, and Ms. Dooley, 47, had been accused of stealing more than $170,000 from the restaurant company over a four-year period. When hearing verdicts of not guilty, the pair reacted with tears and hugged family members and supporters.

The jury of seven men and five women considered the testimony of 20 witnesses and more than 300 documents that had been presented over a period of seven days. Deliberations began about 9:30 a.m. Thursday and concluded after about an hour.

Mr. Packo and Ms. Dooley waited in the courthouse after the verdict to offer thanks and handshakes — and the occasional hug — to the jurors.

One juror declined to be interviewed, saying the panel decided not to speak with the media.

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John Weglian, chief of the special units division of the prosecutor’s office, said after the verdict: “I respectfully disagree, but I accept the jury’s verdict.”

Not present was Robin Horvath, Mr. Packo’s cousin and a key witness in the case.

Mr. Horvath, who has since lost his shares of the company, testified over a period of three days of what he believed were “anomalies” in the company’s financial records that resulted in his own “covert” investigation.

Mr. Horvath testified that he brought information to the Lucas County prosecutor’s office, which in turn conducted its own investigation.

Mr. Horvath could not be reached for comment on Thursday.

Mr. Packo’s attorney, Jerry Phillips, said he believed the brevity of the deliberations showed that jurors did not believe Mr. Horvath’s assertions that Mr. Packo was stealing from the company and that Ms. Dooley was helping him.

“I’m extremely pleased for the clients. This has been two years of just a terrible ordeal that’s finally over,” Mr. Phillips said.

“I think it came down to the credibility of witnesses and the primary witness was Robin Horvath.”

Mr. Phillips noted that Mr. Horvath still has pending civil litigation involving recent court decisions that resulted in the sale of Tony Packo’s Inc. to a third-party buyer.

The company was placed in receivership in August, 2010, shortly after Mr. Horvath filed his first civil lawsuit and in response to the company going into default on its bank loans.

Tony Packo’s Inc. was sold in February to Bob Bennett, LLC, the owner of a local fast-food franchise.

Since the sale, Mr. Packo has continued to work for the company as vice president of restaurant and retail operations. Ms. Dooley was also hired on, but said that she has since left the company after helping through the transition.

Mr. Packo said that Mr. Bennett has stood behind him and his family while the criminal matter played out in court.

He added that it was this support from his family, friends, and Mr. Bennett, that helped him endure the “2½-year ordeal.”

Mr. Bennett released a statement after the verdict was announced Thursday saying he was pleased to learn of Mr. Packo’s acquittal. He added that Mr. Packo and his father will continue to work at the company.

“Tony Packo’s Toledo LLC will continue to focus on strengthening the operations of the company, restoring financial stability, and delivering the unique dining experience customers have come to expect,” Mr. Bennett said in a statement.

“We look forward to putting this difficult period in our company’s history behind us and appreciate the continued support of our loyal customers. The Packo family’s knowledge of the business will continue to play an important role in the future of Tony Packo’s and my enthusiasm for the company remains high.”

After sharing hugs with her family, friends, and former co-defendant, Ms. Dooley expressed relief and thanks.

“I’m just glad it’s over and the justice system has worked for us,” she said.

Attorney Rick Kerger also asserted that the speed of the jury’s decision demonstrated “how bad this case was.”

“I think it never should have been indicted and certainly it shouldn’t have been tried,” Mr. Kerger said.

“It’s a shame Cathy and Tony had to go through this.”

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



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