Founder of Harbor Freight Tools sues CEO son - East Valley Tribune: Mesa

Founder of Harbor Freight Tools sues CEO son

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Posted: Wednesday, July 21, 2010 12:38 pm

CAMARILLO, Calif. — The founder of Harbor Freight Tools is suing his son, whom he accuses of kicking him off of the board of directors, having him locked out of headquarters and looting the company to finance a lavish lifestyle that includes a $46 million Beverly Hills mansion.

The lawsuit is the culmination of an increasingly bitter family feud over control of the Camarillo, Calif.,-based imported-tool seller, which has 7,400 employees nationwide.

Allan Smidt, 81, founded the business in 1968 and his son, Eric, is chief executive officer.

The lawsuit, filed by Smidt and his wife last week in Los Angeles County, contends their son persuaded them to turn over control of the company in 1999 but then reneged on promises to let his father have the final say on major business decisions and to pay him $2.5 million a year for his services.

According to the lawsuit, Eric Smidt explained that he hadn't made the past two payments because the company was "going through bad times."

"Eric's looting of the company substantially contributed to any such bad times" and made it hard to keep inventory on the shelves, the lawsuit contends.

According to the lawsuit, Eric Smidt heavily leveraged the company by taking out more than $500 million in loans, then damaged it by using some of the money for extravagances such as a $20 million Manhattan apartment and the purchase of a painting for $100 million.

One alleged purchase was The Knoll, a 13-bedroom mansion in Beverly Hills formerly owned by celebrities including singer Kenny Rogers and late billionaire Marvin Davis that Eric Smidt reportedly bought for $46 million.

The lawsuit also contends that the younger Smidt fired several longtime executives and kicked his father off the board of directors. The father claims that in May, his son had the company's new chief operating officer walk him out of the company's headquarters. The executive, Robert W. Rene, allegedly told him, "Don't come back."

"Family disagreements are never pleasant, but this lawsuit is incredibly sad. The assertions in the complaint are completely unfounded and they will be addressed in due course," the company said in a statement Monday. "None of this will affect the business or continued success of Harbor Freight Tools."

The lawsuit alleges fraud, breach of trust, undue influence, negligent misrepresentation, misappropriation of assets, breach of contract and elder abuse. It seeks unspecified damages.

The company has said it plans to move to Calabasas in neighboring Los Angeles County this year because it has had strong growth — including adding more than 600 jobs in the past year — and needs more office space.

Harbor Freight Tools has stores in Phoenix, Mesa and Tucson.

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