Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Fur family's feud lands in court

Father and son face off over alleged broken promises

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The fur will certainly be flying inside a courtroom over control of the family fortune belonging to Winnipeg's first family of furriers.

Ken Reiss is suing his father, Harry, over control of the family's investment company, Bedford Investments.

In a statement of claim filed at the Court of Queen's Bench, Ken Reiss alleges over a five-month period in 2011-12, his father Harry reneged on a 24-year-old promise to transfer ownership of Bedford Investments to him, then reneged on a deal to sell him the company, reduced his salary without cause, and then abruptly fired him, locking him out of the family's Exchange District office building and parkade.

The allegations have not been proven in court. A statement of defence has not been filed. Trial dates have not been set.

Ken Reiss, 46, and Harry Reiss, 82, could not be reached for comment.

After his dismissal, Ken Reiss alleges, his father Harry spread allegations in the city's business community that Ken was unexpectedly terminated because of wrongdoing he had committed. Ken Reiss alleges his father threatened to disinherit him and his family if he challenged his father in court.

The documents state Ken Reiss alleges his father's actions were designed to inflict mental distress at a time when Ken Reiss was vulnerable and resulted in Ken Reiss suffering from, "stress, anxiety, frustration, mental distress, embarrassment and loss of enjoyment of life."

Ken Reiss is suing his father, Bedford Investments and several numbered companies, which the documents identify as the Reiss businesses, all controlled by his father.

Harry Reiss and his brother, Sam, started Reiss Furs and Fine Fashion in 1952, selling high-end furs to retailers across Canada and the U.S. From their location at 275 McDermot Ave., Reiss furs were worn by celebrities and stars. Their customers included Princess Anne and Diana Ross, who visited the Exchange District store in person while performing in town and bought a full-length mink coat. The company closed in 2008 after the two brothers retired.

Bedford Investments still owns the McDermot Avenue building. It also owned the 114-year-old Ryan Block, a heritage warehouse in the Exchange District at the corner of King Street and Bannatyne Avenue, which the city allowed to be demolished and replaced with a multi-storey parkade.

Ken Reiss said he started working for his father, Harry, at Reiss Furs in 1988. When he was terminated in April 2012, Ken Reiss had been vice-president of Bedford Investments.

Ken Reiss is asking the courts to award him damages for wrongful dismissal and breach of contract, damages equal to the value of Bedford Investments and unspecified costs for aggravated and punitive damages.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 21, 2013 B1

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