Exorbitant bonuses, sleeping in meetings alleged in Heidelberg lawsuit

The family dispute among owners of Heidelberg Distributing is heating up, with the defendants in a Hamilton County Common Pleas Court civil lawsuit saying the relative who filed it “has never held a meaningful working position with the company” and slept through company board meetings.

Albert Vontz III, president and co-chairman of Heidelberg, filed the lawsuit against his sister, Carol Miller, and several of her family members whom Vontz claims have “seized control” of the company and are “oppressing the third and fourth generations” of his family. Vontz and Miller each owns 50 percent of the voting shares of Heidelberg, according to the lawsuit.

Miller’s family has been involved in the day-to-day operations of the beer and wine distributor: Her husband Vail Miller Sr. led the company for more than 40 years and now serves as co-chairman, and son Vail Miller Jr. is currently serving as CEO, although Vontz claims his nephew improperly assumed that title, according to court documents. In the Dec. 5 lawsuit, Vontz accused those three Miller family members and two others of exorbitant salaries, wasteful spending and misappropriation of assets.

In a late December answer to the lawsuit, the Millers claim Vontz “slept through or played video games on his iPad” while attending Heidelberg board meetings. Vontz “is compensated at an approximate multiple of eight to 15 times higher” than the company’s CEO “for significantly less contribution to the business,” the Millers’ answer to the lawsuit says.

An amended lawsuit filed Jan. 20 by Vontz included a list of proposed bonuses for 2014 showing Vontz and Vail Miller Sr. in line for a $1.4 million bonus each, with $200,000 allocated for Vail Miller Jr. and lesser amounts for other Heidelberg managers.

The Vontz lawsuit seeks an unspecified amount in compensatory damages and a permanent injunction that would block Miller family members from seizing unilateral control of Heidelberg’s board of directors.

Heidelberg employs 1,400 and distributes beer, wine and low-powered spirits to restaurants, bars, grocery stores and other retailers in much of Ohio and part of Kentucky. The company spent $20 million to renovate the former Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. warehouse in Moraine before moving its Dayton-area operations into that facility 18 months ago.

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