Red Hot Heartbreak

Twin Cities entrepreneur Dick Quinn believed in the healing power of cayenne pepper. But in the four years since his death, the wrangling over rights to his five-alarm cure has been anything but therapeutic.

Even though Paula Quinn sued both her former stepson and Watson, she concedes that her ex-husband "would be saddened by the lawsuits, because I think he would consider it expending negative energy. I think that Dick didn't like conflict of any kind, and he certainly didn't like confrontations."

Nearly two years after it was filed, the case was dismissed this past March. U.S. District Court Judge Michael Davis wrote, "The record clearly establishes that Heart Foods possessed no rights in the name, signature, and likeness of Richard Quinn at the time that Defendants left their employment with Heart Foods and began their own companies." In the aftermath of the case, Heart Foods faces a new dilemma: Paula Quinn says she owes her attorney $105,000 for her lawsuit but is on the financial rocks and expects she'll be sued soon to collect on the debt.

Looking back at the action against him, Foley says, "It was a frivolous lawsuit." He believes it was designed simply to "inflict harm on my business" and charges that she sent copies of the complaint to his customers: "She damaged my reputation." Oddly enough, Foley Quinn still holds his interest in Heart Foods, but says he's looking for a way to divest.

Rick Sealock

Paula Quinn still incorporates Quinn's story into her company's Web site and brochures. To write her dearly beloved out of Heart Foods' promotionals would be, she reasons, to change history: "A lot of people like the personal side of the story; there's a great association, a great affinity with my customers and Dick."

Watson still sells his Quinn's Blend capsules, but figures that, in terms of business strategy, it makes more sense for him to build his herbal company without invoking Quinn at every turn, particularly when another company bears Quinn's name. Foley's Quinn Naturals uses Dick Quinn's name in its marketing materials, and at conventions sets up floor displays with his photo heralding "the most recognized name in cayenne."

 

As if that skirmish weren't enough to turn Quinn in his grave, his daughter Shannon, who runs the now-California-based R.F. Quinn Publishing, sued Watson and Cayenne Trading in June 1997, also in federal court. At the time of Quinn's death, his assets essentially consisted of the publishing company, which was placed into a trust with Shannon and Watson serving as co-trustees. Shannon became president of the company, and Watson retained the titles of vice president, secretary, and treasurer. But the acrimony between the two reached fever pitch not long after Quinn's heart quit. There were arguments about how the company was being run and about the assembly of the posthumous Death by Deception book, which included a few brief pieces penned by Quinn, and was filled out by contributions from Shannon and Colin and Watson.

Watson, who had moved his Cayenne Trading to Sebeka earlier that year, resigned as an officer of the publishing outfit in August 1996, amid a heated fax battle that continued unabated. In a November 1996 letter to Shannon Quinn's counsel, Watson wrote, "Your client has suggested I deal directly with her. I would rather freeze to death." Later he offered an analogy of her tactics: "Like Hitler, her timing has been impeccable, and like Hitler, she is destined to die isolated in her hardened bunker." Still later, he waxed less poetic, simply saying, "Shannon is full of shit."

Shannon Quinn's lawsuit alleged that Watson had hijacked something in the neighborhood of $1 million from Quinn Publishing and that he had commandeered a mailing list of 9,000 names for the sole benefit of his own business. As part of the calculation for the allegedly missing money, the complaint contended that 250,000 copies of Left for Dead had been sold from 1992 to mid-1996. Everyone seems to agree that Quinn didn't have a head for business: Shannon blames Watson for the state of the company she inherited, while Watson points to Quinn's freewheeling bookkeeping.

Were Quinn alive today, Watson figures, even a bucket of cayenne pepper pills wouldn't soothe his likely distress about the legal wranglings between his family and friends. No, he says, "Dick would be sick. Foley was his oldest son, he considered me his best friend, and his ex-wife waited until after he died to sue us. And his daughter is trying to hold us accountable for the fact that Dick didn't always run a tidy business."

Shannon flatly disagrees: "I think he'd think that we're doing the right thing. The reason we did it is to try and preserve his legacy, which is what we've always been about." As part of her efforts to do just that, she devotes much of her time to promoting Left for Dead, as did her father before her. Three editions of the book have been published since his death, and a conscious decision was made not to add anything indicating that Quinn had indeed perished. "The consensus was, don't change a good thing," Shannon says of the immortalizing strategy.

As part of the defense in the second lawsuit, two accountants retained as expert witnesses by Watson's attorneys filed an analysis with the court of the publishing company's business through the end of 1996. Their contention rested on the opinion that the records were too sloppy to figure out exactly what had gone on; they dubbed the financial records "a disorganized mess" that offered "scant basis for historical analysis of Quinn Publishing's financial activities." The report goes on to note that "it is our impression that Dick Quinn considered the Quinn Publishing funds to be his to spend as he pleased"--whether for business or personal expenses. In reviewing checks written from the company, the accountants found stacks of checks "written to cash, Dick Quinn's children, for items which appeared to be personal in nature, to Alan Watson, and to or on behalf of Cayenne Trading."

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