HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. – Helen Rich, 73, an heiress and great-granddaughter of Wrigley’s Gum founder, William J. Wrigley, was sued for defamation on September 20 in the Hillsborough County courts.
The suit was filed by Rich’s recently terminated bookkeeper, Susan Harrell.
Harrell worked at Rich’s Odessa-based company, 5R Farms beginning in 2017, according to the filing. Rich allegedly expressed false statements that Harrell stole from her while employed.
In May 2018, Rich filed a civil suit against her previous bookkeeper, Barbara DiCioccio, and former ranch manager, Chet Ragsdale, for what investigative authorities found was their conjoined effort that bilked Rich out of $480,000.
Rich’s Odessa-based company, 5R Farms, keeps her in the center of the horse show industry which Harrell describes in her lawsuit as an industry where “a horse professional’s most valuable asset, other than talent, is that reputation within the horse community.”
Harrell claims her reputation within the industry was stellar as “one of Rich’s right-arm persons,” until Rich allegedly came to believe that Harrell was untrustworthy.
The lawsuit states that “Many participants in the industry are very deferential to and fearful of Ms. Rich, given her wealth and related power.”
On May 30, Rich allegedly informed Harrel that ranch manager, Ian Ferguson, was going to be terminated and wanted to know if Harrell was prepared to take over his position.
On July 5, Rich allegedly instructed Harrell to go to her lake house and find her Lincoln Navigator’s keys.
According to the lawsuit, while at the lake house, Harrell removed a couch’s cushions and discovered a manila folder with an enclosed document that detailed Harrell’s and Ferguson’s personal identifying information and a list of bank accounts with their last four digits included in the two-page document that referred to Harrell and Ferguson as “subjects.”
Harrell was documented as possessing $570,000 which she claims she did not have. The lawsuit directly states, “The Document was designed to give the false impression that both Ms. Harrell and Mr. Ferguson had embezzled over $800,000 from Ms. Rich.”
Harrell allegedly contacted the banks listed and was told no accounts were listed in her name.
On July 14, Harrell attempted to discuss the documents and their allegedly false information with Ms. Rich but was barred from speaking with her.
After other incidents occurred and Harrell was formally terminated in writing without cause, Rich’s ex-husband returned to work on the farm.
According to the lawsuit, he told another farm employee that Ian Ferguson and Susan Harrell had taken “a sh*t ton of money” from Rich and deserved to be fired because documents and a private investigation had confirmed what they had done.
The employee allegedly also heard from Rich that she would make sure neither of them ever worked again. The employee allegedly shared Rich and her ex-husband’s remarks with Harrell’s fiancé.
Harrell accuses Rich of making derogatory remarks about her to other people, including a potential new employer and states her reputation has been damaged. Harrell claims Rich knows her statements are false and that Harrell suspects her identity was stolen.
Michael P. Brundage of Safety Harbor is Harrell’s attorney and responded to The Free Press, “I do not have any comment.”
At least one of Rich’s attorneys is Jeffrey J. Wilcox of Hill Ward Henderson, Tampa.