Soured friendship spawns $13.4 million verdict

High school buddies at St. X and both helicopter pilots, Ardie Greenamyer and Tom Eifler Jr. reunited 21 years after their graduation when they flew workers and supplies in — and victims out — of flooded New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

Sleeping at times on the concrete floor of an airport hangar, rising at 4 a.m. to fuel up Eifler’s four-seat chopper, they forged a bond that led them to launch a business, according to a Courier-Journal story in 2006 about their exploits.

They would buy, assemble and rent out high-rise cranes and hoists. Greenamyer had already run such a business while Eifler, a broker and investment consultant in his father’s firm, would work the numbers and wine and dine clients.

“Not only from a friendship standpoint, but from a confidence standpoint, I have no issue that whatever we get into, it’s going to be successful,” Eifler was quoted in the story. And indeed it was. Within two years, Eifler Tower Crane and Hoist Co. was worth about $8 million.

But then, after Greenamyer accused Eifler of day trading with the company’s money, Eifler and his father, Thomas O. Eifler Sr., kicked Greenamyer out, despite a back-of-an envelope deal he claimed guaranteed him 50 percent of the assets.

On Wednesday night, after a seven-day trial, a Jefferson Circuit Court jury finally gave Greenamyer what he said he was due. Finding the Eiflers had defrauded him and breached a contract, the jury awarded him $13.4 million, including $7 million in punitive damages.

Greenamyer’s lead lawyer, Garry Adams, said the verdict vindicated his client’s claim that he and the younger Eifler were equal partners, as suggested in the newspaper article, which Adams cited as a key piece of evidence.

But Walter Sales, one of the Eiflers’ lawyers, said the story never should have been admitted by Judge Brian Edwards, before whom the case was tried, and the verdict was the result of “passion and prejudice.”

“Ardie came across as a hardworking, relatively unsophisticated guy who was taken advantage of by financial wizards,” Sale said. “It was a Main Street vs. Wall Street case, and in front of juries, people perceived as successful and wealthy get no sympathy.”

Sales said the Eiflers will seek a new trial, and if that fails, they will appeal.

“We are disappointed but confident we will be vindicated,” he said.

Eifler Sr. is the mayor of Indian Hills as well as the owner of Eifler Advisory Group; Eifler Jr. is president of its Lone Star State unit in Plano, Texas.

The trial was framed by testimony of 15 witnesses and over 14,000 pages of documents, including the June 15, 2006, article by business writer David Goetz, who died in 2011.

According to his story, the idea for the company arose in the aftermath of Katrina, when Eifler Jr. and Greenamyer, both members of the St. X Class of 1984, flew commercial rescue missions for which they won the helicopter industry’s Igor J. Sikorsky Humanitarian Award.

The next year, when they were skiing together in Utah, they wrote up a deal on an envelope for a venture that would buy cranes and hoists and rent them to construction contractors.

Adams, who tried the case with Ted Walton and Pete Lay, told the jury that his client did “98 percent of the work” and while Eifler Jr., managed the books and took clients out to lunch.

Neither partner put their name on the business, Adams said, because Greenamyer was trying to avoid collection on debts from a prior business, while Eifler Jr. was concerned about a possible divorce. Instead, the business was placed in a trust funded by the elder Eifler, Adams said.

When Greenamyer discovered Tom had taken $250,000 from the business to make day trades on the stock market – and lost $199,472 of it – he reported it to Eifler’s father, according to court papers filed by Adams. Concerned Greenamyer had discovered “the pattern of improper financial transactions,” the Eiflers decided to remove him, Adams said.

Greenamyer said when he objected, Eifler Sr. abruptly slammed a door on him and ordered him to leave a building shared by the investment firm and the crane company.

“I’ve had enough of this —,” Greenamyer said Eifler Sr., told him,” according to court papers. “You need to leave now or I’ll call my police.”

Adams said Greenamyer took that to mean Eifler, the Indian Hills mayor since 1995, would sic members of its force him.

Eifler denied saying that.

And he and his son claimed Greenamyer was never a partner in the business, Sales said in an interview.

“Tom Jr., borrowed $4 million to set up the company and Ardie Greenamyer didn’t put a nickel into it,” Sales said.

The $13,410,000 verdict included $5 million in punitive damages against Eifler Jr. and $2 million against his father.

The jury found for Greenamyer on counts that included breach of contract, fraud, tortious interference with contract, aiding and abetting fraud and civil conspiracy.

Adams said the defense offered just $60,000 to settle the case on the eve of trial. Sales said he couldn’t confirm the exact amount, although he said of the verdict, “We didn’t expect this.”

In a brief interview, Eifler Sr. said the legal battle isn’t over.

“This is round one,” he said.

Story can be found here: http://www.courier-journal.com/story/news/local/2016/06/09/soured-friendship-spawns-134-m-verdict/85647302/