Thomas E. Popoli, owner and chief executive officer of Nylon Engineering Resins Inc. of Fort Myers, Fla., said Nov. 11 he ex-pects to be exonerated on 27 charges of customs, wire and mail fraud. Popoli was arrested Oct. 30 in Fort Myers by U.S. Customs Service agents. He was arraigned Nov. 4, and released from jail Nov. 6 after posting a $500,000, secured bond, according to Robert P. Barclift, Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Florida, Fort Myers Division.
In response to the charges, Popoli issued a statement Nov. 11 that said he believes the investigation into his business ``originated [with] two former, disgruntled employees who were sued for unfair and competitive trade practices, and ... prodded along by Hoechst Celanese, with whom Nylon Engineering and [I] have been involved in a hard-fought civil lawsuit for a number of years.''
The disgruntled employees are Joseph Herring and Robert S. Popoli, Thomas Popoli's son, whom Popoli sued after they left his firm. Thomas Popoli later dropped that suit, according to Marc Nurik, Thomas Popoli's Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based lawyer, who was interviewed by telephone Nov. 13.
The civil lawsuit Popoli referred to in his statement was filed in 1994 by Hoechst Celanese Corp. of Summit, N.J. Hoechst alleged that Popoli and his company infringed on Hoechst's Celcon trademarks and improperly sold acetal resins labeled with Hoechst's tradename. Popoli previously was an employee and an exclusive distributor for Hoechst Hostaform, a predecessor company to Hoechst Celanese.
Popoli responded to Hoechst's civil charges by filing a countersuit for slander in which he is seeking $10 million in damages.
Hoechst's civil suit and Po-poli's countersuit are pending.
``Nylon Engineering recently refused a settlement proposal offered through Hoechst Cela-nese attorneys to end the civil litigation,'' Popoli said.
``The offer was without substance relative to Nylon Engin-eering Resin's defamation coun-terclaim,'' he added.
Beth Brier, associate general counsel for Hoechst, said her company made no recent settlement offer to Popoli and his company in the civil suit.
In his statement, Popoli repeated his charges that Hoechst is pursuing the civil litigation in an effort to control U.S. markets for acetal resins, and cited a Novem-ber 1995 price-fixing investigation launched by the European Com-mission. The EC investigation had agents for the EC raiding offices of four large, multinational chemical firms, including Hoechst AG, the parent of Hoechst Celanese.
An EC spokesman said a year ago the agents were seeking information on cartel activities and price fixing. That investigation is pending.
``Nylon Engineering contends that Hoechst's lawsuit to date has been nothing more than a bold-face attempt to remove its do-mestic competition and continue its contrivance of the U.S. market prices,'' Popoli's statement said.
``Now, Nylon Engineering claims Hoechst and the United States Attorney's Office have engaged in a prosecutorial tag-team attempt to do what [Hoechst] has not been able to do in civil court: Decimate the small, privately held, Fort Myers-based company,'' Popoli added.
In a prepared statement issued Nov. 14, Barclift said the investigation by the U.S. Customs Ser-vice and the U.S. Attorney's Office and a grand jury ``are in no way driven by Hoechst Celanese, nor are they interdependent in any way on the commencement, continuation or outcome of civil litigation'' between Hoechst and Popoli and his company.
Brier, meanwhile, said Hoechst continues to prosecute its civil-suit claims and expects an expeditious ruling.
Popoli has stated steadfastly that he and his firm legally purchased acetal resins from Taiwan Engineering Plastics Co. of Taiwan, a firm in which Hoechst holds a 75 percent stake, legally imported those resins to the United States, and legally sold them. Nurik said if there were any irregularities in the way Popoli's company paid customs duties they were not intentional or caused or directed by Popoli.
Popoli is due back in court Dec. 2 for a pretrial hearing, and Nurik and Barclift said they expect a trial to be held early in 1997.