The Paulucci family fortune feud has ended, or at least a settlement has been filed to that effect.
The estate of famed Duluth businessman Jeno Paulucci and his wife, Lois, has been the subject of "long-standing, acrimonious and intensely litigated disputes" since the couple died in 2011, according to court documents. A settlement that went into effect in January closed the book on at least three dozen lawsuits and covered the fate of millions of dollars held in trusts, allegations of undue influence and other wrongdoing and even who gets possession of a handmade quilt and a painting. Then there's the millions spent on attorneys fighting over the estate for more than seven years.
The agreement, filed in St. Louis County and Seminole County, Florida, courts, prevents the Paulucci heirs from commenting on the matter "other than the issuance of a joint statement that all of the parties to this agreement and the current fiduciaries' agreement are pleased that the disputes were able to be resolved in a manner acceptable to all parties concerned."
Part of the deal states that some members of the Paulucci family are no longer allowed to speak to one another.
"The parties have made certain compromises and concessions among themselves," the agreement reads. "The parties want to avoid further financial burden, administrative delay and uncertainty, and believe it is in the best interests of all persons ... to fully resolve the litigation on an economically fair basis through their arm's-length, bargained-for exchange."
To recap: Jeno Paulucci was born in Aurora in 1918, raised in Hibbing and came to prominence in Duluth, where he was at one point the largest employer in town (Jeno's Pizza Rolls). He built a frozen food empire and amassed real estate and other holdings in Minnesota and Florida that led to his wealth being "in the ballpark" of a half-billion dollars, he said in a 2003 interview.
Jeno and Lois Paulucci died four days apart in November 2011.
The bitter legal battle over their estate started with questions over the validity of amendments to their trusts made weeks before they died, according to court documents. The fight grew as their three children and other heirs filed petitions, complaints and other court actions, many against the trustees. Claims included "undue influence, unjust enrichment, fraud," and a dozen other allegations, all of which have been dropped, according to the settlement.
While the hard-fought agreement finally settles who gets what money and from where, the document also protects the now-former trustees, Larry Nelson and David Simmons, from future legal action.
If any of the heirs "breaches the covenant not to sue" Nelson or Simmons, they would have to pay $5 million per incidence, up to $25 million, according to the agreement. The trustees were paid $2.75 million to be split between them as "inducement" to agree to the terms of the settlement, and the heirs "shall not initiate contact" with them "by any means whatsoever," according to the filing.
The settlement also sets up walls between the three Paulucci children: "Michael, Cynthia and their lineal descendants will not initiate contact with Gina, and Gina will not initiate contact with Michael, Cynthia or any of their lineal descendants."
January's settlement replaces an earlier agreement from 2017 that raised the alarm over dwindling funds due to "a generous amount of litigant acrimony."
"The myriad of issues and side issues that permeate these disputes has resulted in very expensive litigation that has drained the Paulucci family wealth," that document states. "If the litigation continues, there is a risk that it will exhaust the remaining assets of the trusts and estates."
The settlement states that attorneys' fees are to be paid from the estate and that "assets of the trusts and estates may be liquidated to generate the cash necessary to make these payments."
The current financial value of the Paulucci estate was not stated in the settlement; court filings show the trusts contain a great deal of property holdings in Florida and Minnesota.
National Bank of Commerce last week announced it was buying and merging with Republic Bank, which Jeno Paulucci bought in 1986. Mick Paulucci said in a statement about the sale that "it was paramount that ownership of Republic Bank went to a trusted, steady and stable organization that would carry on the Paulucci legacy."