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Jury sides with Leprino Foods, billionaire CEO in case that exposed family feud

This story first appeared on, a BizWest news partner.

Leprino Foods and its reclusive billionaire CEO do not have to pay $900 million to two heirs, a Denver jury ruled Friday.

The company, CEO James Leprino and two of Leprino’s daughters did not breach their fiduciary duty or wrongfully withhold information from two of Leprino’s nieces, the jury decided.

The jury of three men and three women deliberated for less than three hours Friday morning before reaching their verdict. They then notified Judge Stephanie Scoville’s clerk, who told the judge at 11:25 a.m. Scoville read the verdict aloud at 11:45 a.m.

“This verdict will be deeply felt by many. The parties have invested a lot in this case,” Scoville told the court before reading the verdict, warning them against breaking decorum.

James Leprino, an 84-year-old who has attended every day of the trial in a wheelchair, stood from his chair after the verdict was read and hugged supporters and his attorneys. Afterward, he stood again to take a photo with his family members and lawyers outside the courtroom.

Attorneys for Leprino Foods and James Leprino declined to comment on the verdict.

Mike Burg, an attorney for the nieces, Nancy and Mary Leprino, said his clients are “extremely disappointed in the verdict” and believe “the jury got it wrong.” Burg said they are considering appealing the verdict to a higher court.

“We believe the verdict sends the wrong message: that when you’re a billionaire, you can manipulate, breach your fiduciary duty, hire two of the largest law firms in the world” and win the case, Burg told reporters outside the courtroom.

The verdict follows a nine-day trial in which two of James Leprino’s nieces, Nancy and Mary Leprino, told jurors that they had been pushed out of the company following a dispute between their father, Mike Leprino, and their uncle in 2014.

James Leprino testified via deposition video Nov. 30. In the video, he acknowledged feuding with his brother and telling his nieces that their 17-percent stock in the multi-billion-dollar company is worth $0. He also admitted that he didn’t allow his nieces to loan the company money, an opportunity he granted to his own daughters and one that will earn them $165 million in interest over three decades.

The nieces argued that by rendering their stock worthless and prohibiting them from profiting from the loans, James Leprino and the company he controls cost them between $600-900 million. The company and its CEO argued that the stock is still highly valuable and the nieces are therefore owed nothing.

Leprino Foods, which grew out of a grocery store that James and Mike Leprino’s parents operated in Denver, is the largest maker of mozzarella in the world and provides cheese for the country’s largest pizza chains. Its headquarters at 1830 W. 38th Ave. in Sunnyside sits on the same corner as the former family store.

The defendants — Leprino Foods, James Leprino and his daughters — were represented by attorneys Michael Hofmann and Kaitlin DeWulf with the local office of Bryan Cave, along with Clifford Stricklin, Desi Hamilton and Jared Lax with the Denver office of King & Spalding.

Source: BizWest