Southfield real estate firm roiled by family feud
Pontiac — Two Oakland County cousins made a fortune in real estate deals together over the past 60 years. But after one of them died last year, there’s nothing but bad blood between their relatives.
The unraveling of Hartman & Tyner Inc., a property management company that owns Hazel Park Raceway and other gaming interests, is playing out in a bitter lawsuit in Oakland County Circuit Court as the Hartman and Tyner families fight over the company’s assets.
Herbert Tyner died at 84 in August after a long illness. His widow and their four children are claiming Tyner’s business partner, Bernard Hartman, has gone back on a deathbed pledge to take care of Tyner’s wife and keep Hartman & Tyner Inc. operations as usual.
Instead, according to the lawsuit filed May 5, the 84-year-old Hartman and a vice president, Daniel K. Adkins, are allegedly “lining their own pockets” with more than $1.5 million in pay raises and bonuses — with nothing going to the Tyners.
With millions of dollars and holdings at stake, neither side is eager to discuss allegations of boardroom treachery at the privately owned Southfield-based business built by the cousins.
“We aren’t going to comment beyond the lawsuit,” said Daniel Quick, attorney for the Tyner family.
Deborah G. Tyner, a former Oakland circuit judge who had been managing the family’s financial interests before her father’s death, could not be reached for comment.
Hartman directed his assistant to refer all questions to Adkins, his co-defendant in the lawsuit. Adkins said Tuesday “we will eventually respond to the complaint and deny virtually everything in it.”
“We believe the Tyner family has been treated fairly,” said Adkins, reached by phone at his office at the Mardi Gras Casino in Hallandale Beach, Florida, one of several properties outside Michigan that are owned by the company.
“We will deny all these accusations and defend ourselves vigorously,” he said.
Tyner and Hartman co-founded their company in 1953. While their early investments were in apartment complexes — the company’s website says it manages nearly 30 in 19 southeast Michigan communities — they branched out in the 1970s, buying Hazel Park Raceway, which hosts thoroughbred horse racing. They later bought casino/greyhound race tracks in Florida and West Virginia and employ about 2,000 people nationally, Adkins said.
For more than 60 years, Tyner and Hartman voted, held shares and split all profits “50-50,” including interest in the Hazel Park Racing Association Inc. and “a large number of other real estate and other transactions,” according to the complaint.
At the time of Tyner’s death, according to the suit, a Herbert Tyner trust had 30 percent of voting shares in Hartman & Tyner Inc. Each of Tyner’s four children had an additional 5 percent non-voting shares. Hartman held 30 percent in voting shares and a Hartman Trust controlled the remaining stock, which were non-voting shares.
During Tyner’s illness, Deborah Tyner had power of attorney and “began looking out for the family’s interests in the various businesses.”
After his death, she served as director of Hartman & Tyner and Suzanne Tyner, Herbert Tyner’s widow, as director of Hazel Park Raceway.
“On Mr. Tyner’s deathbed, Mr. Hartman promised Mr. Tyner that his wife of 60 years, Suzanne Tyner, would be taken care of upon his death and treated just as Mr. Tyner had been,” according to the lawsuit.
“Despite this and several similar pledges, defendants seized control of the companies, cut out Tyner family involvement in the management of the companies, and blocked the Tyner family from obtaining information from or even access to the companies.”
Certain perks, such as company vehicles and “accommodations” at residences in Michigan and Florida — which Suzanne Tyner had enjoyed for years — were no longer provided to her, according to the suit. Deborah Tyner was cut out of the decision making.
Tyner also was survived by two other daughters, Karen Tyner Rouff and Cynthia Tyner Dobbins, and a son, David.
Suit: Tyner family ‘cut out’
According to the complaint, Hartman of Bloomfield Hills, still active in the company, and Adkins, who lives in Florida, began an “oppressive campaign against the Tyner family within days of his death.”
According to the complaint, Hartman and Adkins “have disrespected and attempted to tarnish the legacy of Herbert Tyner in an appalling attempt to line their own pockets and cut out the Tyner family.”
Adkins, a company employee who had been involved in management of “various gaming interests” had been appointed to the boards at Hartman & Tyner and Hazel Park Raceway in 2004.
The contents of the late Tyner’s office were “boxed up” and his daughter was discouraged from coming to the offices, according to the suit.
Board meetings — headed by Hartman, Adkins and, previously, Tyner — were called on short notice without adequate information of what was to be on the agenda. Deborah Tyner was “verbally berated for asking basic questions” or requesting additional information.
“Ms. Tyner was made to feel unwelcome in the corporate headquarters,” the lawsuit reads. “Defendants refused to tell her the alarm code for the building thus preventing after-hour access.”
As representative of the family and the Tyner Trust, Deborah Tyner sought more involvement, but was told the board of directors was “merely advisory” and that management — Adkins and Hartman — “would make all business decisions.”
At a December 2015 meeting, the lawsuit alleges Hartman and Adkins intended to vote for substantial bonuses for themselves for 2015 and $1 million in compensation for Hartman for 2015 and 2016 but nothing for the Tyner family.
Such financial considerations were deferred as Adkins discussed a buyout at fair value to the Tyner family and necessary accommodations “consistent with past practice” for Suzanne Tyner.
An accounting firm was hired to do a valuation on the buyout.
6-figure bonuses alleged
According to the lawsuit, at a board meeting in February Hartman was given $1 million in compensation and a $150,000 bonus; nothing was given to the Tyner family after his death and for all of 2016. Adkins received a $400,000 bonus for 2015.
At a later meeting, Hartman announced there would be no money allotted to be distributed to minority shareholders for the year and finally relented on 35 percent of the prior year’s profits to be distributed.
The Tyner family alleges the company is “sitting on unprecedented tens of millions in cash.”
The lawsuit does not ask specific financial damages, presumably because an accounting firm has been hired by the company to determine the valuation of the company in anticipation of the requested buyout. But the lawsuit does ask the court to:
■ Compel Hartman and others to pay the Tyners their entitled share of profits for year ending Dec. 31, 2015.
■ Issue an injunction for alleged “illegal, fraudulent and unauthorized compensation and bonuses to Hartman and Adkins.”
■ Appoint a receiver to monitor corporate activities and prevent waste and improper expenditure of money.
■ Authorize purchase of the Tyners’ share in companies and joint business interests at fair value or order the dissolution and liquidation of the companies.
The lawsuit is assigned to Judge James Alexander.