Despite last week’s major win over Stewart Resnick and The Wonderful Company over pistachios, not all is well with Fresno’s Assemi family.
Kevin Assemi filed a lawsuit last Friday against his family alleging 31 civil claims, including fraud, breach of contract, unfair business practices, wrongful termination, malpractice, breach of fiduciary duty and unjust enrichment.
The big picture: Kevin Assemi named his father, Farid Assemi, and uncles, Farshid Assemi and Darius Assemi, as defendants in the case.
- Along with the trio who head the Assemi Group, Kevin Assemi is also suing Maricopa Orchards – the family’s farming operation – Nader Malakan, Malakan Investments LLC, attorney John Bezmalinovic and other employees of Assemi Group.
- While the 88-page lawsuit is extensive, Kevin Assemis allegations generally revolve around a handful of key issues:
- His salary reduction and eventual termination as President of Assemi Group.
- The failure of Maricopa to fund investments into Elevated Ag LLC, Kevin Assemi’s company which he started in 2020.
- An alleged fraudulent attempt by Maricopa representatives to secure a $13 million loan with Farm Credit West to make an initial payment on a $500 million Prudential Bank loan.
Farid’s health: The backstory of the lawsuit starts in 2018, when Kevin Assemi was promoted to President of Assemi Group and CEO of Maricopa.
- According to the lawsuit, Farid Assemi promised Kevin Assemi a $3.2 million salary when he was promoted to President. Although the salary was ratified by the owners and shareholders of Assemi Group, Farid Assemi reduced and deferred the salary to $200,000 allegedly at the influence of Jason Hollrah, the Chief Financial Officer of Assemi Group, to prevent Kevin Assemi from incurring a large tax liability.
- On May 1, 2019, Kevin Assemi agreed with his father that he would be paid $6 million for 2019 for the true value he brought to the companies.
- However the year before, Kevin Assemi noticed that Farid Assemi was becoming forgetful and was making poor financial decisions. Farid Assemi also allegedly would attack his son for the success and savings he was achieving as CEO.
- Kevin Assemi and “the second generation of the Assemi family” approached Darius Assemi and Farshid Assemi “to discuss his father’s forgetfulness and his recent propensity, irrational and uncontrolled emotional outbursts, and for making poor financial decisions,” that were to the detriment of Assemi Group.
- In 2021, Farid Assemi was diagnosed with a brain tumor and then later Cerebral Degenerative Ataxia.
Kevin Assemi’s termination: Shortly after meeting with his uncles to discuss his father’s health, Kevin Assemi was terminated as CEO and agreed to an $11.5 million severance package.
- The severance also included an indemnification provision, land transfers, access to intellectual property and use of the family planes.
- But Kevin Assemi claims he has only received $4.5 million since he was removed.
Elevated: After exiting Assemi Group, Kevin Assemi went on to form Elevated in 2020 and brought on, among others, Nader Malakan as a board member.
- Malakan’s inclusion came with the stipulation that he “would not act as a spy” for Farid. Kevin Assemi claims that Malakan had become a board member “for the sole purpose of acting as a spy and inside man” for his father.
- In the spring of 2022, Kevin Assemi claims that his father, uncles and Bezmalinovic demanded that he pledge Elevated’s property as part of Assemi Group’s $500 million Prudential Bank loan refinancing the existing $350 million Metropolitan Life financing. In exchange, the family promised to honor their existing agreement to guarantee loans to Elevated, which included term debt and development financing at around $15 million in value.
- Kevin Assemi claims that his family failed to uphold their end of the bargain, in-turn fraudulently inducing Elevated to pledge its land as collateral. Darius Assemi also allegedly used threats and intimidation against Kevin Assemi to secure the loan.
- Elevated was forced into default with its vendors as around $1.5 million of its debt was delinquent because the Assemi Group forced Elevated to allow its assets to be encumbered so the family company could borrow $9 million.
- Kevin Assemi also claims that Maricopa attempted to close a $13 million loan with Farm Credit West to pay the first semi-annual loan payment on the $500 million loan. Maricopa fraudulently represented that it was a majority owner in Elevated and that Farshid Assemi and Malakan had signature authority. Maricopa owned 25.3 percent of Elevated at the time, per the lawsuit.
- Kevin Assemi reported the scheme to Farm Credit West in July.
Family trust: Along with the civil lawsuit, Kevin Assemi also filed a case in the Fresno County Superior Court to remove Neema Assemi and Farshid Assemi as trustees of the family trust.
Read the suit: