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Jury returns $2.2M judgment against Don Marsh

February 16, 2013
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Don Marsh, in 2003, opening a new grocery store. (IBJ file photo)

A federal jury returned a $2.2 million judgment against iconic Marsh Supermarkets CEO Don Marsh late Friday, finding that he tapped corporate coffers for personal expenses.

The nine-member jury deliberated for about six hours before notifying the court that it had reached a verdict about 11 p.m.

Marsh had no comment on the verdict and didn't respond when U.S. District Judge Sarah Evans Barker wished him "good luck" before adjourning the court.

Marsh Supermarkets filed a civil lawsuit against Marsh in April 2009, claiming he used the company as a personal checkbook to finance global travels and trysts with mistresses. His attorneys insisted the trips were business-related and within the bounds of his employment contract. Marsh countersued, saying the company had wrongfully halted severance payments, shorting him $2 million.

After a two-week civil trial, jury members found Marsh, 75, had commited breach of contract and fraud, but stopped short of delivering Marsh Supermarkets a total victory. Although the grocery chain had asked for $1.6 million to cover expenses and penalties related to an IRS audit that focused on Don Marsh's expenses, the jury awarded the company half that amount, saying it shared responsibility.

"We're pleased that [the jury] agreed with us in part," said Andrew McNeil, one of Don Marsh's attorneys.

The jury agreed with four of Marsh Supermarkets' eight breach-of-contract claims, ordering him to repay $1.4 million in unauthorized expenses. It did not award punitive damages.

Marsh Supermarkets was asking its former CEO for a total of about $5.6 million.

Judge Barker will rule separately on whether the company can recover the $2.2 million in severance it paid to Marsh.

Sun Capital Partners purchased the supermarket chain in September 2006 and directed it to file suit after an investigation into company finances uncovered what it considered lavish spending by the former CEO.

After Marsh Supermarkets sued him in federal court in 2009, he countersued, asserting the company improperly halted his post-retirement payouts in 2008 and owes him millions of dollars.

The jury denied his counterclaim.

Marsh showed no emotion as the verdict was read.

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