Trial over AriZona Iced Tea's future nears end

Domenick Vultaggio, chairman of Beverage Marketing USA, seen

Domenick Vultaggio, chairman of Beverage Marketing USA, seen here on Aug. 29, 2012. He and his former business partner's family are in court for a dispute over the value of the AriZona Iced Tea business. (Credit: Newsday / Audrey C. Tiernan)

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A court trial involving a long-running battle between the estranged owners of AriZona Iced Tea is coming to an end in a case that could determine the future of the well-known Long Island drink maker.

The nonjury trial before Nassau County Supreme Court Justice Timothy Driscoll follows six years of litigation between former business partners John Ferolito and Domenick Vultaggio, who together launched AriZona in Brooklyn in 1992. The last day of trial for the court case, which began in May, is set for Wednesday.

"I may have the greatest Fourth of July because it's over," Ferolito said while testifying for the last time.

Driscoll will decide how much Vultaggio and Woodbury-based Beverage Marketing USA Inc., which owns the AriZona brand, must pay to buy the 50 percent stake of Ferolito and a family trust.

The trial is seeking to determine the value in 2010 when Ferolito filed a lawsuit to dissolve Beverage Marketing. Vultaggio's lawyers have insisted that valuing the beverage maker, with about 1,000 employees, at too high a price could determine whether it remains in private hands, goes up for sale or files for bankruptcy.

Celebrity private investigator Richard Dietl, a former NYPD detective, took the stand Tuesday to dispute the claims made last week by David Menashi, the current chief executive of Beverage Marketing, that Dietl, who is known as Bo, had tried to intimidate Vultaggio when he entered the company headquarters in July 2008 along with four other armed guards.

"I take offense when someone puts my credibility into play, and this guy is a liar," said Dietl, who acknowledged he and his guards were armed.

But Vultaggio's attorney, Louis Solomon, argued Dietl, who was hired by Ferolito to investigate some employees, entered the offices in a threatening manner.

"He has investigated employees of the company," Solomon said. "This goes into his intimidation."

Last week, Ferolito, in a letter dated June 22, made a $2 billion offer to buy out Vultaggio, citing previous purchase offers from other companies at as much as $4.5 billion. Vultaggio, whose lawyers assert that the companies are worth $426 million, rejected the proposal.

In 1998, as part of an agreement in which Vultaggio would run day-to-day operations while Ferolito moved to Florida, the two agreed to restrict outsiders from participating in a stock sale of the company unless they both allowed it. By 2005 Ferolito wanted to sell his shares and began pushing for a corporate sale. After Vultaggio resisted selling, Ferolito turned to the courts starting in 2008.

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