De Francis scratches Manfusos from offices


If Joe De Francis has his way, Tom and Bob Manfuso could be considered trespassers at their own tracks.

De Francis, president and chief executive officer of Pimlico and Laurel race courses, is barring his partners from all managerial offices at both racing plants.

He also is imposing a gag order on track employees, telling them they cannot discuss track business with either of the Manfuso brothers.

The De Francis directive is the latest volley in the battle for control of the tracks.

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.

De Francis and Jacobs answered the suit last week and filed a counter-suit against the Manfusos, seeking $100 million in damages.

De Francis said yesterday that "the Manfusos are not a part of track management. They haven't been for some time, and I think it's time to make that point loud and clear."

The Manfusos have contacted their attorney and filed a motion to obtain a restraining order, De Francis said. "Until then, we have talked to their lawyers and decided to maintain the status quo, which means they [the Manfusos] cannot go into the managers' offices or talk to them about track business," De Francis said.

"We have turned the matter over to our attorneys," Bob Manfuso said. "Personally, I think it's ridiculous. Joe is now taking this thing to a personal level, and that's unfortunate. This is an owners' battle, and shouldn't involve the help. He's trying to involve them and shouldn't. If a court of law tells me I have to abide by his order, I will. If not, I won't. But I want to see clarification on this sort of thing. We will have to let a judge determine [the outcome]."

In a June 11 memo to track managers and department heads, De Francis said that for the duration of the litigation, "the Manfusos shall not have access to the executive offices including all departments [such as Racing Department, Mutuels Department, Accounting Department, Press Box, etc.]."

The memo continues: "If either of the Manfusos attempts to enter your office or department, please contact either me or Marty Jacobs immediately."

De Francis added yesterday that "the Manfusos can go anywhere patrons or horsemen can go, but they cannot go anywhere track managers are located."

Exactly when the legal process involving the lawsuit, counter-suit and restraining order will begin to be heard is unclear.

De Francis said he also plans to strip the Manfusos of their company cars and evict them from their offices at the tracks.

Bob Manfuso and De Francis are co-chairmen of Pimlico's board of directors, and Tom Manfuso is vice chairman.

The Manfusos retired from active management in the spring of 1990 and received a termination payment of $1.25 million each. They collect severance payments of $125,000 annually through September 1993 and retain their stock interests.

According to a stockholders agreement, the Manfusos can activate a "Russian roulette" deal to buy out De Francis' share of the track after Oct. 1, 1993.

De Francis controls the majority of voting stock in both tracks. The Manfusos own a sizable amount of equity in each track, but it is less than 50 percent.

Hearings for the permit to build a track in the Dallas-Fort Worth area are expected to begin in Texas next week. De Francis is involved with the Lone Star Jockey Club Inc., which is seeking a license, and Bob Manfuso is affiliated with Midpointe Racing Inc., the R.D. Hubbard company that also is seeking a permit.

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