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Judge will determine Greensburg beer firm's ownership

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Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The brother and sister who own a Westmoreland County beer distributor are at odds over the future of the $15 million company, so a judge will have to decide who runs the business.

Greensburg Beverage Inc. owners G. Lewis Iannuzzo, 81, and his sister, Rosemarie I. Cole, 76, were in court Tuesday for a hearing on Cole's request for an injunction that would reinstate her as company treasurer and replace her brother as president of the business in Hempfield Township.

Cole claims that Iannuzzo fired her, her daughter and her son-in-law last month in retaliation for Cole's refusal to authorize a $10.6 million buyout for her brother.

The company was founded by the siblings' parents in 1949. Cole has worked for Greensburg Beverage for 52 years, according to the lawsuit she filed last month.

Cole earned more than $300,000 last year as treasurer. Her daughter, Stacy Beehner, worked as Cole's assistant. Son-in-law James Warnick served as the company's sales manager.

"Mr. Iannuzzo acted solely for his selfish purpose in order to line his own pockets with cash," said Cole's attorney, David Borkovic. "It's a gross abuse of his discretion. All he was doing was acting for himself."

The business, which is the wholesale distributor for the MillerCoors beer company in Westmoreland and Fayette and parts of Allegheny and Washington counties, is mostly owned by Iannuzzo and Cole. Iannuzzo owns 69 percent of the company, while Cole owns 30 percent. Other family members and employees hold a 1 percent share.

In the lawsuit, Cole claims Iannuzzo has tried to sell the company in order to cash out his interest in the business he claims is worth $15 million.

After Iannuzzo rejected a compromise offer that would have paid him $3.5 million up front, with the remaining $7 million deferred over 25 years, Cole said her brother threatened her with a gun and had her forcibly removed from the business, the lawsuit alleges.

Iannuzzo's lawyer, Mary Jo Corsetti, declined to comment on the allegations in the lawsuit.

Lawyers yesterday argued whether Judge Anthony Marsili should grant an injunction that would restore Cole and her children to their positions and remove Iannuzzo from running the company.

Borkovic claimed that without Cole and her family, the company would suffer a loss of business and poor management decisions by Iannuzzo would eventually erode the value of the business.

Corsetti told Marsili that Greensburg Beverage has continued to function without Cole and her children.

"Everything is fine for now," Corsetti said.

Robert King, the company's attorney, said that Cole and her children retain their stock and company bylaws prohibit Iannuzzo from selling the business without approval from his sister.

As president of the company, Iannuzzo has authority to hire and fire employees, including his sister and other relatives, King said.

Marsili said he would soon rule on the injunction request. The lawsuit over permanent control of the company is pending,

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