Track deal triggered, Manfusos say


Eight days after the Oct. 1 trigger date, Bob and Tom Manfuso have informed Laurel/Pimlico operator Joe De Francis that they are exercising their rights under a Russian Roulette clause in a stockholders agreement and are offering to sell him their shares in the two race tracks.

The Manfusos said yesterday that they sent a certified letter to De Francis on Saturday.

The brothers also said, in a separate letter, that they resigned their positions as officers and directors of Laurel and Pimlico.

Under the Russian Roulette agreement, De Francis must either buy out the Manfusos at the price that they specified in their letter, or allow the Manfusos to buy him out at the set figure. The Manfusos would not disclose the price they set in their letter.

The letter is the first step in resolving the long dispute that erupted after the death of Frank De Francis in 1989 when his son, Joe, took over operation of the tracks.

"Obviously the relationship has not been good," Bob Manfuso said yesterday. "Somebody had to make a move and start the process. In this position, you wear two hats -- as a potential seller and a buyer. We didn't want to do anything until the Virginia application [submitted Oct. 1 by Laurel/Pimlico to build a track in that state] was in or until the Maryland Million [last Saturday] was over."

Bob Manfuso said he and his brother resigned from the track boards "because there wasn't any sense to staying on. There comes a time when relationships are finished."

De Francis said as of yesterday he had not yet received the letter. He said he first learned that the Manfusos had pulled the Russian Roulette trigger in a story that appeared in yesterday's Washington Post.

"This is indicative of the kind of treatment I have received from them since the death of my father," De Francis said. "They mail me a letter over a holiday weekend, which I will not receive until midweek, and then they call up a newspaper and give them a story. I am in the dark about this and can't really comment until I have paper in hand.

"If this is a genuine step in an ultimate and complete resolution of our differences, then I'm pleased.

"But for all I know, the letter might contain all sorts of conditions that is just a ploy by them to prolong our dispute."

Herb Garten, the Manfusos' attorney, said the letter contained the price that the Manfusos had put on their shares and a recitation of terms of the contract.

Neither Bob Manfuso nor Garten would state the price and said it was up to the eventual purchaser to disclose the figure if they want to.

De Francis has 90 days to determine if he will buy the Manfusos' shares or sell them his interest.

De Francis' minority partner, Martin Jacobs, executive vice president and chief counsel for Laurel/Pimlico, said: "I'm glad they [the Manfusos] have finally gotten off the dime. All of this uncertainty has been bad for the industry. I'm anxious to see their offer."

De Francis added that once he gets the letter he will consult with his lawyers and will not be in a hurry to make a decision.

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