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Breakthru Names Lloyd Sobel, Former Empire CEO, As Executive Vice President

November 7, 2016

Breakthru Beverage Group has appointed Lloyd Sobel to an executive VP post, less than two months after Sobel was fired as CEO of Empire Merchants following accusations that he received as much as $5 million in under-the-table payments from Empire co-owner Charlie Merinoff.

Breakthru, formed earlier this year when Charmer Sunbelt Group and Wirtz Beverage Group merged, has named Sobel executive vice president, commercial development. He’ll be based in New York and report to Breakthru CEO Greg Baird.

In September, the Brooklyn-based Empire filed suit against Merinoff and Baird, claiming the two—and others—defrauded the company through their involvement in an interstate smuggling scheme. Along with his part-ownership of Empire (co-owned by the Merinoff/Drucker family and the Magliocco family), Merinoff was both a part-owner and top executive at Charmer Sunbelt for many years. Baird, meanwhile, was a longtime executive at Charmer Sunbelt—including a stint as the distributor’s president prior to the formation of Breakthru. He also served on Empire’s board.

Sobel, who had been Empire’s CEO since its creation in 2007, was also named in the suit. Empire claimed that Merinoff distributed millions of dollars to Sobel via a retirement vehicle, so that the Empire CEO would “forsake his fiduciary duties to Empire and instead act in Merinoff’s and the Sunbelt Entities’ best interests.”

Breakthru has steadfastly denied Empire’s allegations against Merinoff (co-chairman of Breakthru, along with Rocky Wirtz), Baird and Reliable (the Maryland division of the former Charmer Sunbelt where the smuggling is supposed to have originated) and has notified the judge in the case that it intends to file a motion to dismiss the lawsuit.

Sobel has spent nearly 40 years in the drinks business, beginning his career at Seagram. —Peter Zwiebach

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