Marc Wichansky, the founder of a Phoenix-based healthcare staffing and home care firm, alleges in a federal lawsuit that his former partner beat him up and stole his company.
Wichansky founded the company in 1994 and eventually took on as partner his friend, David Zowine. They created the Zoel Holding Company to manage MGA Healthcare Staffing, MGA Employee Services, Home Healthcare and other firms. The company grew into a multi-million-dollar firm employing hundreds of people.
But the partnership took a bad turn in 2010, resulting in this new lawsuit that at times reads less like civil litigation between corporate executives and more like an episode of "Cops." (See below for full lawsuit.)
From the corporation's headquarters at 2800 North 44th Street, Zowine worked as Zoel's vice president and sales manager as Wichansky managed the company in general and ran the company's "back office" needs, the suit states.
Wichansky began the feud innocently, he claims, by ordering an internal investigation into financial discrepancies. What the probe turned up, he alleges, was evidence that Zowine and company employees loyal to Zowine had been fleecing clients including the state of Arizona.
Zowine began a "campaign" of verbal and physical intimidation against his partner and friend, according to Wichansky, who claims he was mystified at the time as to Zowine's reasons for the behavior. Zowine spread rumors about his partner and subject him to verbal abuse, Wichansky says.
"Go back to your office like the f**king p*ssy you are," Zowine once yelled to Wichansky in front of numerous employees, Wichansky claims.
A week after that incident, on January 19, 2011, Zowine walked into Wichansky's office, closed the door and attacked him, the suit states.
Zowine, a "formidable presence physically," who's five inches taller than Wichansky and outweighs him by 90 pounds, "grabbed Wichansky by the neck, threw him across the room, body slammed him to the ground, and punched him in the back."
Other employees who came in after hearing Wichansky cry for help had to "pull" Zowine off the company president, the suit states.
Wichansky was treated for his injuries and claims he still suffers pain from the incident.
In the ensuing months, as Wichansky began to suspect Zowine of improprieties related to his bad behavior, the feud became sort of a civil war with factions of loyal employees lining up on each side and battling for control of the company. As the alleged devious plot by Zowine developed, Wichansky claims, Zowine frequently berated Wichansky and Wichansky's family members with accusations of tax evasion and drug use.
Ironically, according to the lawsuit, the office fight prompted Zowine to file an injunction of harassment against Wichansky, forcing Wichansky to respond to what he says was false information.
Meanwhile, Zowine and his "confederate" employees set up a "secret" office at 24th Street and Camelback, not too far from the corporate headquarters.
In early February of 2011, while Zowine and Wichansky were in court together because of the injunction Zowine had filed, Zowine's loyal troops entered Zoel headquarters, "pushed aside and/or restrained" one or more members of Zoel or its subsidiaries, the suit states. They allegedly "kicked in the door to the locked server room" and began attempting to make copies of the company's internal databases.
For some reason, Zowine's employees aborted their attempt at mirroring the company's servers -- deciding instead to take the servers and 30 computers to Zowine's "secret" office, says Wichansky's lawsuit.
Wichansky says he tried to make peace with Zowine, but nothing worked. So he tried to dissolve the company. This caused another court battle that preceded the new lawsuit.
We won't trouble you with all the details, but the end result of that court battle is that Zowine ended up with the Zoel Holding Company and its subsidiaries.
"Mr. Wichansky feels very much that his company was stolen from him and that he was defrauded," says Wichansky's New Jersey lawyer, Sean Callagy.
Wichansky, a Paradise Valley resident, could not be reached. He now works for Team Select home care.
We left a message this morning at MGA Healthcare for Zowine, where a receptionist told us Zowine was on the other line. He hasn't called back yet.
As we often emphasize in stories like these, the lawsuit only tells one side of the story. In this case, we could find no court record that Zowine was ever prosecuted for the alleged assault against Wichansky. Police who were called out after the servers and computers were "stolen" decided not to get involved with what appeared to be a civil issue.
We'll let you know what happens with the lawsuit.