RUSKIN — A Hillsborough County medical marijuana farm is being sued by its former director of finance, who says she was subject to significant, targeted harassment by the CEO after she reported him for possible embezzlement of company funds.
AnnMarie Blair, a Hillsborough County resident, was hired at 3 Boys Farm in Ruskin as its controller and director of finance in January — the company’s only female executive, the lawsuit said.
3 Boys is one of just 14 businesses in Florida allowed to grow, process and sell medical marijuana. The farm started as a hydroponic farm focused on organic vegetables. It was awarded a medical cannabis license by the state in 2017.
According to the lawsuit, just days after starting, Blair found evidence that then-former CEO Robert Tornello had been embezzling funds for some time from the company. Just a month before Blair was hired, Tornello was asked to leave the company "because of his rude, abusive, arrogant, retaliatory and offensive conduct that he frequently unleashed on employees of 3 Boys." It’s unclear from the lawsuit who asked him to leave.
According to records Blair had access to, the lawsuit said, Tornello took large amounts of petty cash by submitting false expense receipts (or submitting them twice) and sought reimbursement for undocumented expenses.
His wife, meanwhile, was hired at the farm with no responsibilities or assignments, the suit alleges.
"3 Boys Farm joins Robert Tornello in denying all the allegations of a ‘hostile workplace’ in Ms. Blair’s Complaint," Tornello said in an emailed statement Friday. "Ms. Blair’s Complaint is riddled with false and defamatory statements."
Blair reported her findings to the company’s board of directors shortly after discovering the issue.
In March, 3 Boys sold its ownership interest to Ron Clapper, who then re-hired Tornello to run the farm. Once back on the job, Blair’s lawsuit said, Tornello began targeting her. He would regularly belittle her, blind-copying her on demeaning emails about other executives that Blair took as intimidation, according to the suit.
In one instance, while she was at her dying father’s bedside out of state, the lawsuit said, Tornello sent "repeated hostile and threatening" texts insinuating she had stolen the work laptop she brought with her to help make sure the company made payroll that month. At the time, she said she was permitted to travel with the laptop.
Other employees, the lawsuit said, feared for their physical safety because of Tornello.
"The use of bullet-proof vests was a common practice because Tornello kept firearms on the business premises," the lawsuit said.
Blair was fired in April. She is seeking unspecified damages for her lost wages and emotional suffering, as well as a jury trial.
This is the second such lawsuit filed against the company and Tornello. The farm’s former chief operating officer alleged a similar pattern of behavior by Tornello, citing name-calling, harassing emails and belittling.
Contact this reporter at [email protected] or (727) 892-2249. Follow @malenacarollo.