Family feud opens new front in local court

  • Article by: NEAL ST. ANTHONY , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 30, 2006 - 8:19 PM

Jeno Paulucci, the father, and Gina Paulucci, the daughter, are in a court fighting over millions in family money.

Gina Paulucci, the daughter of millionaire food entrepreneur Jeno Paulucci, is firing back at her old man in a lawsuit that alleges that the 87-year-old Jeno has looted her trust funds.

Gina Paulucci's lawsuit, filed last week in Hennepin County District Court, comes after a suit filed last summer by her Florida-based father, who sought a court-appointed guardian to oversee Gina's inheritance.

Jeno Paulucci claimed that his 44-year-old daughter, one of three children, is incompetent and being manipulated by her 67-year-old boyfriend, a former FBI agent and security consultant.

Gina Paulucci wants a Hennepin County judge to remove several Minneapolis lawyers appointed by Jeno Paulucci as trustees for several trusts that were established for her between 1963 and 1989. She also seeks a court-supervised accounting of the assets, which she alleges have been reduced by millions of dollars in violation of the trust documents and Minnesota law.

"In a nutshell, she's been deprived of the information necessary to evaluate her financial position," said Joe Anthony, her attorney. "When she's asked, she's been refused. She has reasonable grounds to question whether assets have been misappropriated from the trusts for which she is a beneficiary."

Steven Wells, an attorney at Dorsey & Whitney for several Dorsey lawyers who were the trustees in question, said Gina Paulucci never asked for an accounting.

"We will provide her with an accounting," Wells said. "And if she had asked us, we would have given her one."

My late old man, who topped out at $25,000 in 1975 but drove us nuts claiming he was the world's luckiest guy, would drag on a Camel, shake his head and say this is the kind of spat that gives rich guys a bad name -- and working stiffs something to laugh about. I would add that it's going to generate weeks of billable hours for several well-heeled lawyers in Minnesota and Florida.

The core of Gina Paulucci's claim against her dad is that she never has learned what happened to her trusts' partnership interests in ETOR Properties. The ETOR unit was a repository for at least $90 million that Jeno Paulucci established for some of the proceeds from the $150 million sale to Pillsbury in 1985 of his Jeno's frozen foods business and other property.

Her suit implies that the ETOR assets were depleted, possibly in violation of the trust agreements, during the 1990s as Jeno developed a residential community in Florida called Heathrow. Gina Paulucci calls the Heahtrow project "an abject business and aesthetic failure" that caused Jeno Paulucci to lose tens of millions of dollars.

Jeno calls Heathrow a successful "new city" of 10 square miles that has become a hub of central Florida, according to a website biography.

In 2005, Gina Paulucci says, she refused to sign documents that would give Jeno control over certain assets and allow him to liquidate ETOR. Instead, she asked for an accounting of what happened to the millions. Gina Paulucci said her father and Larry Johnson, a retired Dorsey lawyer and trustee, refused to give her any information. That refusal was followed by Jeno Paulucci's suit against his daughter last year, according to Gina .

Jeno Paulucci's lawyer declined to comment Monday on the daughter's suit. Paulucci said last fall through a lawyer that he considered his suit against his daughter a private family matter.

The frozen-food magnate last September asked a Florida judge to appoint a guardian to oversee Gina's trust funds, claiming that her boyfriend, Charles Yeschke, has incapacitated her and rendered her incapable of making independent decisions. Yeschke was described in court papers as an ex-FBI agent and expert on interrogation.

Anthony, Gina's lawyer, said earlier that Jeno Paulucci sued his client because she disagreed with him and asked probing questions about the management of her trusts.

"The fact that somebody disagrees with you doesn't mean that her mind is being controlled by somebody else," Anthony said.

Jeno Paulucci is a storied entrepreneur of the food industry, who in 1990 also started Luigino's Inc., which makes frozen entrees under the Michelina and Budget Gourmet brands. The Luigino's website says the company, which has most of its operations in Ohio and its headquarters in Minneapolis, has "cash flow" of about $100 million per year. Gina Paulucci's ex-husband, Joel Connor, is the president of Luigino's.

The outspoken Jeno Paulucci is a graduate of Hibbing High School, a political independent who welcomed unions to his workforce and consulted with senators and presidents. He created more than 70 brands of food and built and sold companies worth more than $2 billion in today's dollars, including Jeno's, Chun King and Northland Foods, according to his biography.

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