The former CEO of a Missoula-based appliance and electronics chain pleaded not guilty last week to charges he enriched himself at the expense of his company, which later filed bankruptcy and shut down.
George L. Manlove, who headed Vann’s Inc., is accused of stealing money from the company that was used to pay for travel expenses, jewelry, personal credit card charges, college tuition, club memberships and unauthorized sales commissions.
He is also accused of setting up shell companies that received $1.7 million in lease payments for two Vann’s stores in Missoula and Helena. The shell companies, which entered into lease agreements without the authorization of Vann’s board of directors, were established by Manlove, his wife, Jill Manlove, and Paul L. Nisbet, the company’s chief financial officer, according to a court filing in federal court in Montana.
Manlove, 58, was indicted late last year on charges of conspiracy, bank fraud, wire fraud, bankruptcy fraud, money laundering and providing a false statement to a federally insured bank.
“They have taken very innocent acts and made (them) sound terrible,” Jill Manlove told The Statesman on Monday. “The charges that are being brought in Montana are very overreaching.”
Jill Manlove said she and her husband took personal responsibility for the company and signed personal guarantees for operating capital. She said her husband worked very hard to grow the company and keep it prosperous.
“We intend to completely fight (the charges) and will be going to court to prove his innocence,” said Jill Manlove, the daughter of store founder Pete Vann.
Vann’s opened in 1961 in Missoula. The company later expanded to include four retail locations, an online store and two sister companies.
George Manlove served as CEO from March 2006 until June 2012, when the board asked him to resign. Vann’s filed for bankruptcy in August 2012 and the stores closed several months later.
The Manlove purchased their home in Eagle in 2014, according to Ada County assessment records.
Former Vann’s employees filed a civil lawsuit against Manlove and Nisbet, alleging that the pair’s mismanagement led the company into bankruptcy and made their $9.2 million in shares in company stock worthless. A settlement of $7.3 million was reached in 2014.
Among the personal items George Manlove is accused of having Vann’s pay for were:
▪ $56,946 for tuition and fees for a master’s program at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill.
▪ $1,125 for a class ring
▪ $76,550 for membership fees at the Rock Creek Cattle Co., a golf course and private recreational club
▪ $18,750 that Manlove exchanged in Vann’s goods for a pair of diamond earrings and a Rolex watch
▪ $9,487 in airline tickets