Categotry Archives: Business

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Roy Torcaso

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Categories: Business, Law

Roy Reed Torcaso, a Maryland notary public who left his mark on constitutional law, died on June 9 from complications of prostate cancer. He was 96.
Born in Enumclaw, Wash., Torcaso was the son of a Catholic father and a Protestant mother. Although raised to believe in a god, he became an atheist and remained a nonbeliever his entire adult life. This decision proved to be a hindrance in his future professional endeavors.
Torcaso was in his 30s when he enlisted in the Army. He spent World War II in England and was reactivated for duty during the Korean conflict. Upon his return to the states, Torcaso became a bookkeeper for a construction company in Bethesda, Md. When his boss encouraged him to became a notary public in 1959, he completed the required documentation and went down to the Montgomery County Circuit Court to take the oath of office.
There Torcaso’s application was blocked by a clerk named Clayton Watkins, all because he refused to declare a belief in a god. At the time, Article 37 of Maryland’s constitution stated that “no religious test ought ever to be required as a qualification for any office of profit or trust in this State, other than a declaration of belief in the existence of God.” Since Torcaso refused to do so, Watkins disqualified him as a notary. He responded by taking the state to court.
Over the next two years, Torcaso received legal assistance from the American Civil Liberties Union and the American Jewish Congress, however the Maryland courts ruled against Torcaso, saying his rights were not infringed because no one had forced him to seek a notary public designation. He also became a target of harassment. He received several antagonistic phone calls, one calling him a “dirty Communist,” and another labeling him an “atheistic bum.” One caller even insulted Torcaso’s wife.
The case, Torcaso v. Watkins, eventually worked its way through the appellate courts and landed at the U.S. Supreme Court. In June 1961, the justices unanimously ruled in Torcaso’s favor, saying the Maryland test for public office “cannot be enforced against [Torcaso], because it unconstitutionally invades his freedom of belief and religion guaranteed by the First Amendment and protected by the Fourteenth Amendment from infringement by the States.” Article VI of the U.S. Constitution bars religious tests for federal office. This ruling prohibited the states from using religious faith or a belief in a god as a criteria for assuming a public office.
Two months later, Torcaso received his commission as a notary public. During the oath, he vowed to uphold the laws of the state of Maryland and the federal Constitution, but he did not declare a belief in a deity or a pantheon of gods. His first assignment was to witness his daughter’s application to take an exam for a ham operator’s license.
Torcaso later worked a series of bookkeeping jobs and devoted much of his free time to civil rights. He served as the president of the Washington chapter of the American Humanist Association, and as the Washington-area president of The Hemlock Society, a right-to-die organization. He also became a humanist counselor, which allowed him to officiate at weddings.
Virginia only allows ordained ministers perform marriage services, thus blocking Torcaso — and other nonbelievers — from doing so. In response, he sued the state. Unlike his previous suit, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear his case in 1989.
“Roy Torcaso lived a full life and advanced religious and civil rights for all of us. I’m thankful that he had the guts to take a principled stand. I also look forward to the day when lawmakers … realize that it’s time to clear away the last vestiges of bigotry by officially removing those antiquated provisions from their constitutions,” Steve Benen said on his blog, The Carpetbagger Report.

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Bob Evans

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Categories: Business, Military

bevans.jpgRestaurateur Bob Evans cooked up a recipe for success — and for great tasting sausage.
Born in Sugar Ridge, Ohio, Evans opened his first restaurant, The Malt Shop, in the 1940s, but sold the business to a friend when he enlisted in the Army. After World War II ended, he launched a 12-seat, 24-hour truck stop restaurant in Gallipolis, Ohio, to help pay the mortgage on his farm. The sign over the restaurant said it all: “No beer, just fine food.”
At the time, sausage was generally made from hog scraps. Determined to produce a better-quality sausage, Evans culled together $1,000, three hogs, 40 pounds of black pepper, 50 pounds of sage and other secret ingredients and began experimenting. Using the best parts of the hog, including the hams and tenderloins, he created a sausage that was a huge hit with the truckers who tasted it. Many would eat their breakfasts at his restaurant, then purchase 5- or 10-pound tubs of sausage to take home to their families. In response, Evans built a sausage plant on his farm and sold even more tubs to area groceries and meat markets.
In 1953, Evans joined forces with five friends and relatives to incorporate Bob Evans Farms, and purchase a sausage packing plant in Xenia, Ohio. The first Bob Evans restaurant, which was originally called The Sausage Shop, opened on the Evans’ farm in 1962. A year later, the company went public, trading on the Nasdaq under the symbol BOBE. Today, the chain of 590 red brick restaurants operates in 18 states and brings in $1.6 billion annually. Evans’ signature sausage is on every menu, along with other comfort foods like meatloaf and gravy, country-fried steaks and whole pies.
Wearing a white Stetson hat and a string tie, Evans frequently appeared in the restaurant’s early advertising, urging customers to “come on down and visit us.” Millions did so. The restaurant chain, which promotes good service and farm-fresh food in a homey environment, also operates 108 Mimi’s Cafe casual restaurants in 19 states, and sells sausage and other products in U.S. grocery stores. Bob retired in 1986, and his cousin Dan Evans took over as CEO. Dan retired in 2000; today, no Evans family members are involved with the company.
A “man of the soil” who was passionate about 4-H and other farm-related programs, Evans spent nearly 40 years preserving wildlife on his farm. In 2003, he and his wife Jewell donated 20 horses and $75,000 to West Virginia University’s Davis College of Agriculture, Forestry and Consumer Sciences to promote the creation of an undergraduate degree minor in equine management.
His conservation efforts earned him three honors from the National Wildlife Federation. He also received the Ohio Wildlife Conservationist of the Year and the Ohio Governor’s Award, and was inducted into both the Ohio State Fair Hall of Fame and the 4-H Hall of Fame.
Evans died on June 21 of complications from pneumonia. He was 89.

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Harvey Weinstein

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Categories: Business

Harvey J. Weinstein, the former CEO of a tuxedo manufacturing company who was once kidnapped and buried alive, died on May 13. Cause of death was not released. He was 82.
Born in Brooklyn, Weinstein was the son of Emanuel Weinstein, who co-founded the clothing company Lord West Formal Wear in the 1940s with his partner Al Westreich. Harvey enlisted in the Marines at 18, and fought at Iwo Jima during World War II. Upon his return to the states, he earned a degree from the University of North Carolina, then joined the family business.
Over the next five decades, Lord West grew into one of the largest formal wear manufacturers in the United States. The company produced 100,000 tuxedos a year, some under the company name and others for Ralph Lauren, Robert Stock and Pierre Cardin. As CEO of Lord West for 24 years, Weinstein became known as “The Tuxedo King,” but all of his employees affectionately referred to him as “Mr. Harvey.” He also founded Tuxacco, a Pennsylvania company that produced and imported formalwear accessories.
Weinstein was admired by his colleagues and friends, but envied as well. On Aug. 4, 1993, Fermin Rodriguez, who sewed pants at the Lord West factory in Queens, his brother Francisco Antonio Rodriguez and a man named William Rivera accosted Weinstein as he left a local diner. They forced him into a car at knifepoint, placed a hood over his head and wrapped a wire metal noose around his neck.
The kidnappers drove to Manhattan and stashed Weinstein inside a 8-foot-deep, barrel-shaped pit located just north of the 158th St. exit of the Henry Hudson Parkway. They shackled his legs, right arm and waist to the wall and covered the top of the crypt with a 100 lb. steel plate weighted down by cinderblocks, wood and dirt.
Weinstein remained in that dank hole for 12 days, with only a couple pieces of fruit and some water for sustenance. In total darkness, the 6-ft. 2-in. businessman managed to free himself from the metal bonds and feel his way around the tomb, which was about 5 feet wide by 5 feet long. Although the kidnappers had tossed in a blanket for him to sleep on, the room was too narrow for him to lie down.
While Weinstein was buried alive, wondering if he’d ever see daylight or his family again, a massive manhunt was launched throughout New York City. As hundreds of officers searched for the missing executive, the kidnappers and their accomplices — two men and Fermin’s girlfriend Aurelina Leonor — called his family and business over 50 times to demand $3 million. To prove he was still alive, the kidnappers recorded his voice several times, and once lowered a cell phone into the hole so he could beg his children to pay for his release.
Weinstein’s sons twice attempted to pay the ransom with duffel bags filled with $50 and $100 bills, but the kidnappers didn’t show up at the drop-off points. Then on Aug. 16, 1993, Fermin collected a bag filled with ransom money left near Highbridge Park in Manhattan, and met up with his brother. When the siblings failed to make contact with the family or release Weinstein three hours later, as promised, police arrested them and retrieved the cash.
Two NYPD detectives found Weinstein in the well-camouflaged crypt near the Hudson River that same day. After hearing his faint cries for help, Detective William Mondore and Detective Reuben Santiago dug through six inches of dirt and debris, removed the steel plate covering the top of the crypt ande pulled Weinstein to safety. Weinstein’s first words were: “Thank God you’re here, and I’d like to have a cigarette.” Relieved to know the businessman was still alive, Det. Mondore pulled out a pack of Newport Lights and lit one for Weinstein and one for himself.
All of the kidnappers and their accomplices were arrested. Fermin Rodriguez, who was the mastermind of the kidnapping plot, got 20 years to life with no chance of appeal or parole. His brother was found mentally incompetent to stand trial and hospitalized. Rivera, who held Weinstein at knifepoint and also worked at Lord West, received a sentence of 12-and-a-half to 37-and-a-half years. Victor Tejada, who made ransom calls to the family, plead guilty to second-degree kidnapping and got a sentence of 8-and-a-third to 25 years. Another man, who cooperated with prosecutors, received less than 3 years in prison. Fermin’s girlfriend Leonor was the only one to refuse a plea deal and go to trial; the jury convicted her after only three hours of deliberation. She received a sentence of 25 years to life for making 19 ransom calls and doing nothing to help the victim.
Weinstein emerged from his harrorowing experience 15 pounds lighter, but otherwise healthy. Although the criminals were brought to justice, he lamented the fact that two of his abductors were Lord West employees. Weinstein sold his share of Lord West to several partners and retired in 1999. The company is now known as Flow Formal Alliance LLC.

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Wayne Schenk

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Categories: Business, Military

Last December, Wayne A. Schenk received some grave news. Doctors told him he had lung cancer and only 12 to 16 months left to live.
A struggling tavern owner and longtime smoker, Schenk didn’t have any health insurance. Since he served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1976 to 1980, the Veteran Affairs Hospital in Syracuse, N.Y., agreed to provide him with radiation and chemotherapy.
Schenk needed more aggressive cancer treatment in order to survive, and the VA’s resources were limited. He requested a transfer to cancer centers in Pennsylvania and New York, but both were out of the VA’s network and required patients to pay $125,000 upfront and have $250,000 in reserve. Schenk simply didn’t have that kind of money. Although he considered selling his tavern, the Orange Inn in Naples, N.Y., Schenk knew a real estate deal would take too long and may not net enough money to pay for the specialized medical care he needed. With nothing to lose, he decided to play the New York State lottery.
Surprisingly, the long shot paid off.
On Jan. 12, Schenk won $1 million from a $5 scratch-off ticket in the lottery’s High Stakes Blackjack game. The odds of someone Schenk’s age developing lung cancer are roughly 1 in 5,000; the odds of winning the jackpot in High Stakes Blackjack are 1 in 2,646,000.
Unfortunately, the sudden windfall did not solve Schenk’s health or financial problems. According to lottery regulations, the prize money could only be paid out in 20 annual installments of $50,000. Schenk didn’t have 20 years ahead of him. He needed the lump sum award to even have a chance at staying alive.
As his health continued to decline, Schenk turned to friends, family, financial institutions, the media, even a N.Y. state assemblyman for help — all to no avail. Legislation to create an exception in Schenk’s case would take years to pass, and lottery officials refused to bend the rules for him.
In the final days of his life, the Canandaigua, N.Y., native married his girlfriend, Joan DeClerck. He was so ill during the wedding ceremony that he had to breathe through an oxygen tank. Before the disease weakened his health, he enjoyed traveling, ice fishing and hunting.
Schenk died on April 23 at the age of 51. He left the remainder of his lottery winnings to his wife.

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Michael Pellegrino

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Categories: Business

Michael A. Pellegrino, a reputable New York funeral director, committed suicide on April 5. He was 45.
The Buffalo, N.Y., native graduated from the Simmons School of Funeral Services and became a full-time mortician. He owned Perna-Pellegrino funeral homes in Buffalo and Amherst, N.Y., and North Buffalo Monuments. Pellegrino was president of the Erie-Niagara Funeral Directors Association and a member of the New York State Funeral Directors Association. Married for 21 years and the father of three, he was described by colleagues and friends as “a gentleman,” “always upbeat” and “a well-respected businessman.”
On the morning of April 5, Pellegrino walked into the Seneca Niagara Casino, strode to a blackjack table and spoke briefly with the dealer. Witnesses say he then pulled a 9 mm handgun from his coat and shot himself in the chest. Pellegrino was taken to Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center where he died an hour later.
Although he was still married to Connie Perna Pellegrino, daughter of retired funeral director Frank Perna, the couple was estranged. According to court records, Connie filed for divorce last October when she learned he was having an affair with a female blackjack dealer at the casino. Police say Pellegrino was involved with the dealer for four years, and that they had an argument on the day of his death.
Pellegrino did not leave behind a suicide note, but his friends say he was heavily in debt due to the costly legal battle with wife, the building of his Buffalo funeral home and his gambling habits. A high roller who suffered heavy losses, Pellegrino was no longer allowed to bet at his mistress’ table, however the casino gave him free use of one of the largest suites in its new four-star hotel. Casino officials would not release information about how much money Pellegrino had lost.

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