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Tuesday, June 18, 2024 | Back issues
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Businessman Says Former Partner Tried|to Settle Dispute by Calling a Hit Man

FORT WORTH (CN) - A Texas businessman claims a former business partner who operated a "long-running Ponzi scheme" responded to a demand for arbitration by making "terroristic threats" against him and asking a hit man how much it would cost to have him killed.

Robert Yonke and his company Trailer Safety Devices LLC sued Karl Pratt, Gwendolyn Cannon and their company, Safety Sentry, in Tarrant County Court.

The complaint states: "Two companies owned by Mr. Yonke, including Trailer Safety, filed two arbitrations alleging fraud and breach of contract against defendants. Defendants, facing imminent liability totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars in these arbitrations, refused to participate in either of the arbitrations or pay their share of the arbitration costs and expenses. Instead, Pratt, acting on behalf of himself, Cannon and Safety Sentry, elected to try to derail the arbitrations by making death threats against Mr. Yonke."

Pratt, of Granbury, Texas, founded Safety Sentry, which makes trailer hitch safety devices. It is owned and controlled by Pratt and Cannon, according to the complaint.

"Mr. Pratt claims to be an 'inventor of the Safety Sentry trailer hitch lock, a ground-breaking product that is guaranteed to prevent trailers from coming loose while driving and from being stolen while parked,'" the complaint states.

"In reality, Mr. Pratt is nothing more than a con artist. For more than two years, defendants have operated a Ponzi scheme which defrauded more than thirty investors out of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Plaintiffs have obtained affidavits of more than a dozen victims of defendants' Ponzi scheme."

The affidavits are not included in the complaint.

Yonke says he demanded arbitration after the defendants breached contracts with his companies.

"On or about Feb. 15, 2011, two entities owned by Mr. Yonke, Trailer Safety Devices, LLC and Adrenaline Motorsports, LLC dba Yonke Motorsports, LLC, relying on numerous misrepresentations made by Pratt and Cannon (including many of the same misrepresentations that were made to the dozens of other victims of defendants' Ponzi scheme), entered into separate contracts with Safety Sentry.

"After Safety Sentry failed to perform its obligations with respect to both contracts, Trailer Safety and Adrenaline filed separate arbitration proceedings with the American Arbitration Association." (Parentheses in complaint).

Yonke says that since September, the defendants refused to participate in the arbitrations, or to pay their share of the arbitration costs.

"Instead, defendants conspired in a scheme to intimidate Yonke and Trailer Safety by making terroristic threats against Yonke's life," the complaint states. "In late September or early October 2011, Pratt was caught by the FBI in a recorded conversation threatening to kill Yonke. During this conversation, Pratt claimed to a witness that he had a hit man in mind that would do the job and even went so far as to call the man and speak to him about the price that would be charged for killing Yonke. In making these threats, Pratt was acting on behalf of himself, Cannon and Safety Sentry. Shortly thereafter, Pratt was arrested by the Hood County Sheriff's office on an outstanding warrant from Louisiana.

"While Pratt was in jail on this warrant, Cannon discussed the death threats with authorities who were investigating the death threats as well as defendants' long-running Ponzi scheme. Cannon promised the investigators that in light of this information, she would not bail Pratt out of jail. Shortly thereafter, Cannon reneged on her promise and provided Pratt's release from jail, so they could continue their scheme to defraud additional victims and intimidate Yonke."

Yonke seeks actual and exemplary damages for assault, terroristic threats and conspiracy.

He claims: "Pratt does not have sufficient resources to pay money damages. Safety Sentry is a worthless shell of a company, as its assets have been looted by Pratt and Cannon for their own personal use, including gambling binges in Louisiana and Nevada. Pratt owns no assets and is a habitual writer of hot checks. While Cannon owns some property, it is not enough to satisfy the damages that will be awarded to Yonke and Trailer Safety in this case."

He also wants the defendants enjoined from contacting him or making death threats against him.

He is represented by Josh Borsellino with Haynes and Boone.

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