De Francis' ban on Manfusos upheld Judge also orders renewal of severance

August 19, 1992|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,Staff Writer

A judge has upheld a decision by Pimlico and Laurel president Joseph De Francis to bar his co-owners from the offices of the thoroughbred tracks and to revoke their use of company cars and other perks.

The decision is the latest twist in the increasingly bitter boardroom battle for control of the state's major horse tracks.

In June, De Francis stripped the Manfusos of several benefits, including the use of company cars, offices and free box seats at the tracks. Although they retained passes to the tracks because they are horse owners, the Manfusos were barred from discussing business with track managers or from entering the executive offices of the track.

Baltimore Circuit Court Judge Ellen L. Hollander rejected yesterday arequest by brothers Robert T. and John A. "Tommy" Manfuso to overturn De Francis' decision. De Francis and John Manfuso are co-chairmen of the tracks' board; Robert Manfuso is the vice chairman.

"Obviously, I'm pleased," De Francis said.

Robert Manfuso declined to comment, and John Manfuso could not be reached.

The judge did, however, order severance payments to be resumed to the Manfusos that De Francis had cut off. The monthly payments will be continued, but into an escrow account until a dispute involving them is settled.

De Francis said his actions were necessary to maintain his control over track management when the boardroom dispute became public this year. The Manfusos were spreading rumors, undercutting his authority among employees, and causing confusion about who was running the tracks, De Francis said in a two-day hearing this week.

But the Manfusos charged that the actions were unfair retaliation for a lawsuit they filed earlier this year. De Francis' actions also violated an agreement the Manfusos signed with him in April 1990, spelling out the benefits they would receive, the Manfusos said. The agreement did not specify how long the benefits, such as the use of company cars and offices, would last.

The Manfusos filed a lawsuit in late April charging De Francis and Martin Jacobs, executive vice president and general counsel at Pimlico and Laurel, with diverting track funds for involvement in a Texas racing enterprise and for unauthorized use of corporate credit cards, among other things.

De Francis responded with a counterclaim, accusing the Manfusos of filing their suit as part of a conspiracy to take control of the tracks. De Francis, through his control of the stock held by his late father, Frank De Francis, votes the majority of stock in the tracks and appointed himself chief executive officer -- over the initial objections of the Manfusos -- after his father's death in 1989.

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