NOBLESVILLE, Ind. — A former Indiana business partner of hardware kingpin John Menard contends in a lawsuit that the Wisconsin billionaire pressured her to have sex with him and his wife and retaliated by firing her husband as a financial adviser and filing lawsuits against them and some of their friends.
Tomisue Hilbert filed her lawsuit May 29 in Hamilton County. She accuses the founder of the Eau Claire, Wis.-based Menards home improvement stores of extortion, battery, assault and breach of fiduciary duty for actions including the sacking of Steve Hilbert as CEO of MH Private Equity, an Indianapolis-based firm that she, her husband and Menard founded in 2005.
An attorney for Menard, 73, said he "categorically denies the inappropriate conduct Ms. Hilbert alleges" and noted a Wisconsin court on Feb. 19 prohibited the Hilberts from continuing to manage the MH Private Equity funds.
The lawsuit alleges Menard first requested sex in May 2011 at the Hilberts' home on the Caribbean island of St. Martin. It claims Menard touched Tomisue Hilbert, 43, several times "despite her obvious reluctance."
"On May 30, 2011, Mr. Menard demanded that Mrs. Hilbert join both him and his wife for sex after her husband went to bed. Mr. Menard further told Mrs. Hilbert that if she refused there would be serious 'financial consequences,'" the lawsuit states.
Steve Hilbert, 67, attributed Menard's actions to the alcohol Menard consumed that evening, the lawsuit alleges. However, Menard repeated his request for sex the next day and in a phone call with Tomisue Hilbert weeks later.
Kevin Tyra, an Indianapolis attorney representing Menard, issued a statement saying "Ms. Hilbert and her husband betrayed Mr. Menard's trust. They mismanaged the assets and resources entrusted to them, and incurred wildly inappropriate expenditures."
Since the February court order, Menard and his associates have fired at least four employees of the main company managed by the fund, put another company into bankruptcy liquidation, and initiated several lawsuits against friends of the Hilberts who had some connection to the equity companies, the Indianapolis Business Journal reported Monday.
"Ms. Hilbert's Complaint appears to be a reaction to these justified actions," Tyra said.
Indianapolis attorney Linda Pence, who represents Tomisue Hilbert, described Menard as a bully who needs to be stopped.
"He has a well-documented history of bullying other people, particularly women," Pence told the IBJ. "His behavior is degrading to women."
The people fired by Menard included Todd Hilbert, the son of Steve Hilbert, and Lisa Trudeau, the wife of former Indianapolis Colts quarterback Jack Trudeau and a friend of the Hilberts. He also canceled a promotional deal for the launch of a new skin-care product carrying the name of Melania Trump, the wife of real estate developer Donald Trump. Melania Trump filed a lawsuit with an arbitrator, claiming the cancellation had resulted in $50 million in damages, the IBJ reported.
Menard and the Hilberts became acquainted in the 1990s when Steve Hilbert was president and CEO of insurer Conseco Inc., which spent $10 million sponsoring Menard's racing teams.