Insults and accusations were slung back and forth for about six hours, but the owners of a local sinkhole repair company reached a settlement amicably.
After hearing accusations of lying, check fraud, tax evasion and other criminal behavior, Robert Brown, 49, and Todd Smith, 41, were laughing and backslapping each other as they walked back inside the courtroom late Wednesday.
Details of the agreement were not disclosed — including who will be overseeing what — but the owners of Universal Ground Services and Construction Co. said they have buried the hatchet. Their company will resume operations.
It was a sudden and dramatic turn of events after several hours of testimony from Brown, which oftentimes turned testy.
About 20 minutes into his testimony, he voluntarily called Smith a “crook.”
He said he realized it soon after he joined forces with him, but he didn’t take drastic measures until earlier this month.
“I had feelings things were not being done properly,” Brown said on the witness stand Wednesday in Hernando County Circuit Court.
For most of the past couple of weeks, Brown and Smith were embroiled in a civil dispute while their company was stuck in the mud. The two were overseeing operations at UGS from the time Brown signed over 51 percent of the stock to Smith and made him chief operations officer. The agreement was reached in October 2011.
On May 13, Brown seized full control of the company by executing an elaborate takeover. Smith responded by filing an injunction, which came with a judicial order to freeze out Brown.
Smith had the sinkhole repair experiences and Brown had the licensing. Their business took off quickly thanks in large part to a spate of local commercials featuring a singing cartoon groundhog.
During direct examination, Brown spoke unflatteringly about Smith, saying he knew him to be “bullish and mean-spirited.”
Brown spent most of the day Wednesday on the witness stand either making accusations against Smith or being grilled by Smith’s attorney.
Brown alleged that Smith failed to pay the rent on time.
Smith, who was seated in the courtroom at the plaintiff’s table next to his attorney, shook his head and turned around in his seat. He told a group of people seated behind him that Brown was telling “lies after lies.”
Brown described his reasons for the takeover earlier this month, during which he was accompanied by Hernando County sheriff’s deputies and ordered several employees to leave the premises.
“Todd had done some potentially illegal things which concerned me greatly,” Brown said.
He accused Smith of bad financial practices in addition to failing to pay taxes. Brown was afraid he would be put in a precarious position with the federal government, and that’s why he needed to act swiftly, he said.
Smith’s attorney, Edward P. Jordan, lashed back at Brown, pointing out receipts and documents alleging he had used company money for personal use.
Jordan referred to a series of purchases Brown made — including a satellite radio and home improvement tool accessories — for personal use.
Jordan also said it was Brown, not Smith, who had a tax penalty filed against him.
The sheriff’s office opened an investigation into the financial behaviors of those at UGS, but suspended it after the case moved to civil court. A detective attended the hearing from start to finish and took notes.
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