A granddaughter of billionaire cheese mogul James Leprino, who unsuccessfully sued him for hundreds of millions of dollars last month, is taking her case to higher court.
After a two-week trial last month, a Denver District Court jury ruled that Nancy and Mary Leprino had not been wronged by their uncle or the Denver company he runs, Leprino Foods.
On Thursday, Nancy Leprino — but not her sister Mary — asked the Colorado Court of Appeals to consider whether the jurors were wrong. The court will now decide whether to hear the case.
It is a case of pitting a millionaire against a lonely billionaire and opened a bitter family drama. At stake in last month’s trial were up to $900 million that the granddaughters said they were owed.
James Leprino and his daughters own 75% of Leprino Foods. His brother, Mike Leprino, owned the other 25 percent before his death in 2017. At that point, the 25 percent stake passed to Mike Leprino’s three daughters: Nancy, Mary and Laura.
At the time of Mike Leprino’s death, he was in an argument with James Leprino, who believed Mike had cheated him in business. As a result, James pushed his granddaughters out of the company, even briefly excluding them from the Denver headquarters, in favor of his descendants.
At the trial, which lasted from Nov. 28 to Dec. 9, James Leprino, 84, testified via video that he and his daughters amended the bylaws of the Leprino Foods board of directors to ensure that shareholders would not receive dividends from the company, beyond a one-time payment.
In lieu of dividends, Leprino and his daughters lent their $400 million from the one-time payment to Leprino Foods in the form of 20- and 30-year loans, which will generate $165 million in final interest for Leprino, his sons and his daughters. nephews. But his three granddaughters, daughters of Mike Leprino, were not authorized to lend their winnings to the company.
Because they can’t generate cash flow from Leprino Foods through dividends or interest on loans, his granddaughters’ 25 percent stake is virtually worthless, James Leprino testified.
However, a jury of three men and three women deliberated for less than three hours on Dec. 9 before determining that the defendants – James Leprino, his two daughters and Leprino Foods – did not breach their fiduciary duty to Nancy and Mary Leprino.
In appealing that verdict, Nancy says the jurors didn’t have the information they needed.
“The legal rulings have allowed jurors to consider only the tip of the iceberg,” his appeal states. He accuses Judge Stephanie Scoville of preventing jurors from seeing evidence that Leprino Foods funneled payments to James Leprino and his daughters through a shell company.
“Having withheld so much from jurors, who had been told nothing beneath the surface was wrong, the court returned a verdict dismissing the plaintiffs’ claims,” wrote Nancy Leprino.
She is now represented by Sean Connelly of Connelly Law in Denver, who did not represent her during her trial but is handling her appeal. Connelly declined to comment.
James Leprino, his daughters and Leprino Foods are represented by Michael Hofmann and Kaitlin M. DeWulf with the Denver office of Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner, along with Cliff Stricklin, Jared Lax and Desi Hamilton with the Denver office of King & Spalding. They did not respond to requests for comment on the appeal.
An attorney for Mary Leprino, Anthony Leffert of the Denver firm Robinson Waters & O’Dorisio, did not respond to questions about why she is not appealing the jury verdict.
Leprino Foods, which grew out of a grocery store that James and Mike Leprino’s parents ran north of Denver, is the largest producer of mozzarella in the world and supplies cheese to the largest pizza chains in the country. Its location at 1830 W. 38th Ave. in Sunnyside is located on the same corner as the former family store.