Feud over 'M-A-S-H' hot dog eatery goes to court
Friday, September 28, 2012 8:56 PM
TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) - Behind the counters of a hot dog eatery made famous on the TV series "M-A-S-H" was a decade-long family feud over control of the restaurant that boiled over with accusations of financial misdeeds and secret recordings.
The grandson of the man who founded Tony Packo's during the Great Depression went on trial Friday, accused of conspiring with a company controller to steal nearly $250,000 from the restaurant that sells its hot dog sauce and pickles in food stores nationwide.
A prosecutor said that Tony Packo III believed he was entitled to more money even though he owned only a minority share of the business. His father and a cousin owned the majority.
But defense attorneys countered on Friday that Packo's cousin cooked up the theft accusations so that he could take over, going as far as installing a fake smoke detector with a camera to record board meetings.
The family fight put the future of Tony Packo's in doubt after a bank foreclosed on its loans and a third party was put in charge of daily operations in the spring 2011. But a sale finalized in February put the restaurant in the hands of a private group aligned with Tony Packo Jr. and his son.
Packo's became a household name in the 1970s when actor Jamie Farr portrayed a homesick U.S. soldier in the Korean War who longed for the hot dogs.
"If you're ever in Toledo, Ohio, on the Hungarian side of town, Tony Packo's got the greatest Hungarian hot dogs," Farr's character, Cpl. Max Klinger, said on an episode in 1976.
The original Packo's remains a tourist destination and is decorated with "M-A-S-H" memorabilia.
Assistant Lucas County Prosecutor John Weglian said Friday that descendants of the restaurant's namesake first began fighting over company spending in 2002.
Nancy Packo Horvath, daughter of the founders, accused her brother, Tony Packo Jr., of trying to force her out of the business. They settled their differences and agreed to reorganize the company's management structure.
Packo Horvath died a year later, leaving her share of the business to her son, Robin Horvath. All seemed fine until 2011, when he sued Packo Jr., and his son, accusing them of blocking him from looking at company financial records after he began questioning them about spending.
Theft charges against Tony Packo III and controller Cathleen Dooley were filed in December. Packo III loaned himself money from the company and stole from other funds, Weglian said.
Packo III's attorney Jerry Phillips told jurors during opening statements that Robin Horvath concocted the allegations and knew about all of the financial arrangements involving his client who was director of restaurant operations. He acknowledged that the record keeping and methods were a little sloppy.
"This was a family business," Phillips said. "They did it a little loosey-goosey."
Phillips said that Horvath wanted control over the business and became paranoid, making numerous false accusations against the Packos and recording dozens of conversations. Horvath also used company money for a country club membership and free food for his family, Phillips said.
Dooley's attorney, Richard Kerger, said Horvath was jealous of the Packo's. "He thought they were taking over," Kerger said.
Horvath is expected to testify later in the trial.