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October 17, 2019Cart

Business

by Fairfield County Business Journal
by FCBJ

Bedford rider accuses Olympic medalist of fraud in sales of show horses

Olympic equestrian silver medalist Peter Leone trained amateur horsewoman Caroline Grubb for several years, trained her show horses, advised her on the purchase of horses, and then, she claims, secretly collected unearned commissions.

Grubb, of Bedford, sued Leone Oct.10 in federal court in White Plains, accusing him of fraud. The lawsuit also names Emil Spadone and Osvaldo Ornia Pacher of New Jersey for allegedly conspiring with Leone to sell her a defective horse.

Peter Leone. File photo by Ryan Doran

Leone, who operates Lionshare Farm training center in Greenwich, said he could not respond to the accusations because he had not seen the lawsuit.

“This is the first I’m hearing of this,” he said in a brief telephone conversation. “I heard grumblings that she was unhappy about something. I reached out to her multiple times to see if she’d like to discuss with me or meet with me to go over her concerns. But she has refused to meet with me. … All I know is that she is unhappy about something.”

“The same baseless allegations were made a year ago in a New Jersey Superior Court lawsuit,” Pacher’s attorney, Liz Durkin said, “and Pacher was vindicated.”

Efforts to contact Spadone for comment failed.

Leone, 58, of Greenwich, Connecticut, represented the U.S. Equestrian Team at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, helping the U.S. win a silver medal in team show jumping. He has competed successfully on the grand prix circuit for decades.

In 2009, Grubb states in her lawsuit, she hired Leone to train her as a rider and advise her on buying horses for her use and for investments.

In 2011, Leone asked her to invest in a show jumper that he would ride in national and international competitions, according to the lawsuit. The idea was to increase the value of the horse by competing successfully and then selling it at a significant profit.

Grubb invested $160,000 in My Pleasure, a Belgium Warmblood gelding, and she received a 60 percent interest in a Connecticut limited liability company that owned the horse.

Leone and My Pleasure won the $25,000 SmartPak Grand Prix at Saugerties, New York, in 2014, but overall, according to the complaint, they had “varying degrees of success.”

Leone allegedly advised Grubb that year that My Pleasure could be sold for $750,000. A year later, she was told that the horse had been sold in the $300,000 price range and that she would come close to breaking even on her investment.

She received a check for $142,000 and a tax form showing a sale price of $290,500.

But My Pleasure had sold for $465,000, according to a bill of sale attached to the lawsuit as an exhibit. Grubb claims she should have received an additional $137,000.

In 2016, the complaint states, Grubb had to find another horse because her show hunter was injured and could no longer be ridden competitively.

She claims that Leone’s assistant told her that Spadone, of Califon, New Jersey, might have a suitable horse.

She and Leone went to Saugerties to see Filippo, a Warmblood gelding, and meet Pacher, a trainer who owns Palermo Show Stable in Bedminster, New Jersey.

Grubb rode Filippo for two days. She concluded that the horse was too small, too uncomfortable to ride and too unbalanced for competition. But Leone, she alleges, pressured her to buy Filippo and said he had the skill to correct the horse’s defects.

She claims that Leone said he would get only a $24,000 commission, apart from the purchase price, for a total price of $214,000, and that Pacher, as owner, would receive no commission.

She paid $190,000 to Palermo Show Stable.

But Palermo Show Stable owned only 50 percent of Filippo, the complaint states. Peter and Janet Antico of Sorelli LLC owned half.

Pacher allegedly told the Anticos that Filippo had sold for $100,000, and they were paid $50,000.

Grubb claims that Leone received an extra $40,000 commission, for $64,000 total, and Spadone got $40,000. By relying on Leone as her agent, Grubb said, she overpaid by $114,000.

Durkin said the allegation that the Anticos owned half of Filippo is untrue, and she said all commissions were fully disclosed.

When Grubb bought Filippo, the horse was shipped to Lionshare Farm in Greenwich for boarding and training.

A veterinarian had advised her to have the horse fitted with steel shoes immediately, the complaint states, because the feet were in poor condition. But Filippo’s shoes were never changed and “the horse became lame and unrideable.”

Leone then told her that he would no longer be training show hunters, Grubb claims, so last year she moved Filippo to Bexley Farm in Bedford for rest and care. The gelding returned to training a year ago, but could be handled only by professional riders.

“Filippo was dangerous and unsafe for her to ride,” Grubb’s complaint states, and she decided “he must be sold.”

She said she has been unable to find a buyer.

Grubb accuses the defendants of breach of contract, breach of covenant of good faith and fair dealing, fraud, unjust enrichment and breach of fiduciary duty. She seeks to reclaim a portion of the defendants’ profits from the sales of the two show horses.

“What a shame,” Leone said. “It’s such a litigious culture. I’m sorry, I don’t know what the heck is going on.”

Grubb is represented by attorney Steven M. Tarshis of Pittstown, New Jersey.