Billionaire Behind LaCroix Accused of Improper Touching by Two Pilots

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Two pilots have filed lawsuits alleging sexual harassment by the billionaire behind LaCroix glowing water, claiming 82-year-old Nick A. Caporella inappropriately touched them on a number of journeys whereas they had been flying with him within the cockpit of his enterprise jet.

The allegations by the previous workers, each males, had been made in lawsuits filed prior to now two years in Florida and title each the chief govt and

Nationwide Beverage
Corp.

FIZZ 1.85%

as defendants. Mr. Caporella is the chairman, chief govt and controlling shareholder of Nationwide Beverage, which has a market worth of $5 billion, due to surging LaCroix gross sales.

Mr. Caporella, a uncommon CEO who additionally pilots the company jet, and the corporate have denied the allegations in court docket paperwork. The fits declare the undesirable touching occurred on greater than 30 journeys from 2014 to 2016.

Glenn Waldman, an lawyer for Mr. Caporella and Nationwide Beverage, known as the allegations false and “scurrilous.” The lawyer stated the corporate’s administration employed him to conduct an investigation and he decided the allegations had been meritless. He stated the plaintiffs had been concentrating on the CEO as a result of he’s rich and in his 80s.

Mr. Waldman stated he spoke with different pilots who flew with Mr. Caporella they usually stated that they had by no means seen such habits. “I talked to the entire former pilots going again many years,” Mr. Waldman stated. “Nothing like this ever occurred.”

In court docket filings, Mr. Caporella and Nationwide Beverage denied any inappropriate touching occurred, writing in separate responses to each lawsuits that “any contact can be the equal of an innocuous pat on the again or handshake after a accomplished flight.” In court docket paperwork, the corporate says each pilots left their positions due to poor efficiency.

One lawsuit, filed in December 2016 in federal court docket within the Southern District of Florida, was settled in January 2018, in keeping with court docket information. Phrases weren’t disclosed. The opposite lawsuit, which was partly dismissed by a federal court docket citing jurisdiction, was refiled in December 2017 in Circuit Court docket in Broward County and is pending.

Each pilots had been employed lately to fly as second-in-command alongside Mr. Caporella, whom the corporate’s court docket paperwork described as an completed pilot. The boys had been paid by Broad River Aviation Inc., the corporate that operates the jet used for Nationwide Beverage enterprise journeys, in keeping with the lawsuits and federal and company information. North Carolina state information record Mr. Caporella as Broad River’s president.

The 2 pilots complained to executives on the aviation firm and Nationwide Beverage about Mr. Caporella’s alleged inappropriate touching, however the habits continued, in keeping with the lawsuits.

The pilots’ lawyer, Lee Schillinger, stated Mr. Caporella pays his crew a beneficiant wage. One in every of his purchasers had beforehand been working three jobs to make the wage that Mr. Caporella provided, in keeping with court docket paperwork. “He reaches over and grabs his co-pilot,” stated Mr. Schillinger. “He’s making an attempt to show that he’s in management.”

Mr. Schillinger confirmed one case has been settled.

Mr. Waldman stated the settlement was “de minimis” and coated “modest wage claims.” He stated he reported findings of his investigation to Nationwide Beverage’s senior administration and didn’t know if the board had voted on the settlement. “It will be immaterial from a board standpoint,” he stated.

A spokeswoman for Nationwide Beverage referred inquiries to Mr. Waldman. Mr. Caporella is chairman of Nationwide Beverage’s five-person board.

The enterprise jet, a twin-engine Falcon 2000EX, flew commonly throughout the interval in query from Nationwide Beverage’s dwelling metropolis of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to locations together with Portsmouth, N.H., Oakland, Calif., and Los Cabos, Mexico, in keeping with federal flight information. The journey matches the dates of journeys alleged within the two fits.

One lawsuit was filed by pilot Terence Huenefeld and his spouse. Mr. Huenefeld, who spent about 5 months working for Mr. Caporella, accused the CEO of undesirable bearing on 18 flights between March and July 2016, in keeping with court docket paperwork.

The lawsuit alleged Mr. Caporella engaged in “repeated unjustified, unwarranted and uninvited grabbing, rubbing and groping of Terry’s leg in a sexual method, reaching up in direction of Terry’s sexual organs.”

Mr. Huenefeld withdrew all of his allegations in opposition to Mr. Caporella as a part of the settlement, in keeping with a doc dated Feb. 2 and offered by Mr. Waldman. Mr. Huenefeld couldn’t be reached for remark.

Mr. Waldman stated his investigation into the second lawsuit is ongoing and depositions are scheduled for later this month.

The second pilot, Vincent Citrullo, alleged in his lawsuit the same sample of habits throughout greater than a yr flying alongside Mr. Caporella. The lawsuit claims that on 14 flights from March 2014 to July 2015, Mr. Caporella engaged in undesirable touching, together with grabbing Mr. Citrullo beneath his armpit, beneath his thigh and shifting his proper hand up Mr. Citrullo’s left leg in direction of his genitals.

Reached by telephone Tuesday, Mr. Citrullo stated he stands by his allegations “100%. It was undoubtedly inappropriate.”

Nationwide Beverage was a distant competitor to larger beverage firms till the latest success of LaCroix, a once-sleepy flavored seltzer model that has been successful with customers as they flip away from eating regimen delicate drinks and sugary sodas. Nationwide Beverage acquired it in 1996 and efficiently relaunched it with neon-colored packaging, concentrating on Perrier drinkers with a lower-priced various.

Mr. Caporella, who has run Nationwide Beverage since 1985, owns 73.5% of the beverage maker’s shares, in keeping with the corporate’s 2017 proxy assertion.

Underneath a construction that has been in place for many years, Mr. Caporella and another high executives aren’t direct workers of Nationwide Beverage, whilst they serve in high positions. They work for a administration firm, Company Administration Advisors Inc., that’s owned by Mr. Caporella. The administration firm additionally owns 20% of the plane that Nationwide Beverage makes use of, in keeping with SEC filings.

In June, Nationwide Beverage modified its company constitution to offer Mr. Caporella extra management over its affairs, permitting for the removing of administrators with out trigger and eliminating the necessity to win minority-shareholder help for a merger or acquisition.

Write to Jennifer Maloney at jennifer.maloney@wsj.com and Mark Maremont at mark.maremont@wsj.com



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