Robert M. Haft, who has built Crown Books into major discount retailer through extensive price-cutting and aggressive advertising, has proven once again that he is a determined executive -- so much so that earlier this year, he went to considerable lengths to avoid being served a subpoena in a civil suit.
Chicago-based Staley Continental Inc., which had filed suit against the investment firm Drexel Burnham Lambert Inc., wanted a witness subpoena served on Haft so it could question him about his dealings with Drexel. But Haft proved elusive for almost a week, until the process server caught up to him on a Saturday night at Tiberio's, a fancy Italian restaurant in downtown Washington.
According to documents filed in connection with Staley's suit, here's what happened when Haft put subpoena servers James D. Dement Jr. and James L. Winston of Rockville's Prudential Associates to the test:
On Monday, June 8, Dement arrived at Haft's Landover office at 3:30 p.m., having spoken to Haft's secretary earlier and scheduled an appointment to serve the subpoena. Dement was out of luck: Haft's secretary said her boss had already gone home.
Two days later, Dement paid a visit to Haft's Massachusetts Avenue home at 2:35 p.m., where two domestic employes informed him that Haft was home but would not come to the door to accept the subpoena. Dement waited for Haft to come out and at 5:30 p.m., Haft and his wife left in a Mercedes. At 11:30 p.m. Haft and his wife returned, but when they found Dement waiting in front of their house, they drove off again.
When the couple came back a while later, "Robert Haft quickly parked his car and dashed into the house before Agent could serve him," according to an affidavit filed by Dement. "Robert Haft left his wife to lock up the car and carry packages inside the house." After Dement spoke to Haft through the front door and indicated he wished to serve the subpoena, Haft ordered him off the property.
Dement then turned the matter over to Winston, who waited for Haft at his house from 7:30 p.m. until 11 p.m. on Friday, June 12, and then returned the next morning at 7 a.m. At 11 a.m., Winston knocked on the door; a maid answered and informed him that Haft was not available.
At 8:50 p.m. on Saturday night, June 13, Haft, his wife, and another couple drove to Tiberio's Ristorante on K Street in downtown Washington.
Winston apparently followed them, because at 9:10 p.m., accompanied by the maitre d', Winston finally served the subpoena on Haft.
Tiberio's maitre d', George Roch, recalled the incident only slightly. "There was somebody here for Mr. Haft, but I don't remember what for," he said in an interview.
A Haft lawyer said he had informed Staley that subpoenas would be accepted through the Hafts' law firm.