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September 18, 2019Cart

Business

by Westchester County Business Journal
by WCBJ

Heiress claims military equipment maker flouts founder’s wishes

An heiress to a military equipment manufacturer is claiming that the company is excluding her from operations, despite the founder’s dying wish that she be involved in management.

Laura Pegler sued Television Equipment Associates (TEA), based in Brewster, Putnam County, last month in U.S. District Court in White Plains. The lawsuit also names Jeffrey Norment, the president, and Richard Bradbury, an outside accountant, as defendants.

TEA makes headsets and communication devices, suitable for battlefield conditions, for the military and law enforcement.

Westbrook “Bill” Pegler II, who grew up in South Salem, founded the company in 1969 and died last year.

Laura Pegler of Durham, North Carolina, claims that her father had asked her to become more involved in the business before he died in order to protect against potential misconduct by management.

A 2003 shareholders agreement specified that when Bill Pegler died, equal portions of the company’s voting shares would be bequeathed to his daughters: Laura, Sabra Pegler and Julia Pegler Rotunno.

Neither Sabra nor Julia is a plaintiff or defendant in the action, but Laura claims they acquiesced to a campaign by Norment and Bradbury to exclude her from operations and deny her critical information.

Laura alleges that Bradbury sought a seat on the board of directors to avoid having to share his accounting fees with his employer. Bill Pegler had declined the request, the complaint states, and Bradbury increased his fees in 2016 to $142,000 from $76,000 in 2015.

“I totally deny all of the allegations against me,” Bradbury responded in a brief telephone conversation, “but, unfortunately, I can’t comment because this is now in litigation.”

Norment did not respond to requests for comment.

Laura claims that Norment, who became president in 2016, excluded her from operations, concealed meetings and blocked access to corporate information.

Bill Pegler directed Norment to sign an agreement in 2016 setting Laura up as vice president of marketing, the complaint says. The agreement was amended three times to clarify Laura’s rights.

The last amendment, executed three weeks before Bill Pegler died, granted her a management position until death or total disability and unfettered and direct access to company financial information.

Bill Pegler died at his home in Malibu, California, in April 2017.

Since then, the lawsuit claims, the company has continued to restrict Laura’s access to information.

Last year, TEA’s $2 million line of credit was frozen because Bill Pegler’s estate was in probate and could not be used as collateral. Laura was asked to pledge her own estate as collateral, according to the complaint. She agreed, but when the arrangement was documented, it allegedly empowered Bradbury to preside over shareholder meetings. She declined to sign the deal, and the line of credit remains frozen.

She also claims that the company keeps $6 million in a checking account that is federally insured for $250,000 and that Norment has refused to move the surplus into federally insured certificates of deposit and Treasury notes.

She accuses Norment and Bradbury of breach of fiduciary duty and other charges. She is asking the court for unspecified damages.