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'POISON DARTS' IN COURT WAR OVER PLASTIC CUP FORTUNE; EXCLUSIVE: Bizarre saga of hate and greed when billionaire brothers fall out.

IT is a family feud that is gripping America, a courtroom battle that has ripped apart one of the richest and most secretive families in the world.

At stake is a pounds 150 million fortune.

Fighting over it are the three billionaire brothers who made their fortunes supplying the burger boxes for McDonald's and the polystyrene cups used in canteens around the world.

The Dart brothers have been at each others throats for six years in a bizarre saga of power, sex and unparalleled greed.

The eldest, Tom, is fighting for a share of a trust fund which he claims he was cheated out of by his brothers, Kenneth and Robert and their father, William.

The law suit, which is due to be settled later this month in a Michigan courtroom, has laid bare the extraordinary life styles of a family so locked in a bitter feud that they have been dubbed The Poison Darts.

And it has shown America how the real legacy of vast fortunes like the Darts' is bitterness, loathing and fear.

The story began 40 years ago when the young William Dart convinced his father, a Michigan manufacturer, to put up the money to develop a machine to turn out polystyrene cups. William had realised that the Fifties boom in fast food would create a demand for disposable cups and cartons - and he was determined to capitalise on it.

Excited by the early success of his new product, William set up Dart Container Corporation in a factory in his hometown.

But where William Dart was determined to succeed, he was also paranoid about competition.

He built a high barbed-wire fence around the two-storey headquarters and put mirrored glass into the window frames.

Employees were forbidden from entering the high security room which concealed the machine which they refused to patent for fear it would be copied.

There was never any question that William's three sons wouldn't join Dart Container Corp. They all shared their father's interest in business - and he ruled them with a rod of iron.

The Dart boys did as they were told.

First Tom, then Ken and finally Robert, joined the firm. Each was ambitious, anxious to impress his father and keen to make his mark. Tom, enthusiastic about the then-booming oil and natural gas business, founded the Dart Energy Corporation and wanted to siphon excess cash from the container business into this sideline.

When Ken joined the company with his chemical-engineering degree, he fought this move.

The brothers had frequent rows over it, but they got worse when Robert joined the firm and took Ken's side.

Tom felt the other two were ganging up on him and ill-feeling and jealousy began to sour their business relationship.

TOM'S energy company enjoyed early success - but when the oil market crashed in the early Eighties, the business slumped.

The other Darts blamed Tom.

Inevitably the brothers fell out and to settle matters their father set up a trust, dividing the family assets equally among his sons.

Tom was given Dart Energy Corporation and pounds 33million to make up for the greater value of Dart Container, which William divided between Ken and Robert.

By now the company was the world's largest manufacturer of foam cups and fast food cartons.

Dart had 13 plants and between 3,000 and 4,000 employees worldwide. At a conservative estimate - no one knows for sure because of the secrecy shrouding the company - it had annual revenues of about pounds 792million.

Tom had agreed to the division of assets although he later claimed he was too scared of his patriarchal father to refuse.

But he became convinced his father and brothers has wildly undervalued Dart Container, which makes most of the burger boxes and foam cups used in Britain.

Angry with being the outsider and hurt he was being made to feel like the black sheep of the family, he sued - and it is this case which is now winding-up in a Michigan court.

The Dart family fortune has more than doubled in recent years as a result of canny investment decisions by Kenneth, the effective head of the company.

They are all immensely rich - including Tom. The dynasty owns four per cent of Brazil's national debt, but it seems to have brought little happiness.

William, now 66, has become obsessive about concealment. and lives in semi-retirement in Florida with his wife. There are no public photographs of him.

Ken and Robert are exiles, virtual recluses who live lives not so different from that other bizarre billionaire, Howard Hughes.

The Poison Darts, victims their huge wealth, live in terror of kidnap, blackmail and murder.

FACTFILE TOM DART

'I want to be apart from the treachery'

TOM, 45, the eldest brother, lives with his third wife Judith, 50, in an elegant home in Michigan. Even though he says he has been defrauded out of his rightful share of the family fortune, he is not poor. His assets are worth about pounds 100 million.

He believes his brothers are planning to move most of the family fortune out of America so any court payment order to him can be avoided.

He claims they have interests in east Europe, China and Guernsey. He has said: "The trouble with people when they get real powerful and wealthy, sometimes, is that they get out of control."

The family feud has already affected the next generation. Tom is estranged from his own 20-year-old son, Thomas Junior, who has sued for his share in the family fortune saying: "I'm kind of on my own and I want my family back, but I can't trust them."

Tom still heads Dart Energy and wants to extricate himself from the rest of the family's operations and have nothing more to do with them.

His reason? "I want to be completely separate and apart from the kind of feuding and treachery that goes on in the rest of my family."

Ever wary of his brothers, he suspects them of giving bribes to the Michigan judge presiding over the feud. In a bizarre twist, he has hired detectives to dig into the judge's own finances. Judge Donald Owens compared it to being caught in a John Grisham novel about corruption and manipulation.

What is certain about the outcome is that, when the case is finally over, there will be little love left between any members of the Dart dynasty.

And the lesson for the rest of us, who envied their wealth, must be that it is possible to have too much.

FACTFILE BOB DART

'He'll do anything to preserve his cash'

ROBERT, 40, the youngest brother, has like Kenneth renounced US citizenship to avoid paying US income taxes.

He convinced his wife Katina and their two children William, now 15, and Arianna, now 12, to leave their native Michigan, on the grounds it was necessary for their financial security.

Five years ago they moved to London and Robert obtained Belize and Irish passports.

He and his wife of 15 years have been estranged for some time but they agreed not to consider a divorce until their children were older.

Then out of the blue, Robert served her with divorce papers allegedly saying: "You won't be able to petition for divorce in America now or engage an American attorney."

That February morning in 1995 was, Katina's lawyers believe, the culmination of a calculated move by the tycoon to avoid not only paying her half his fortune, but disclosure of the Dart empire's wealth. Katina, now 40, was awarded pounds 8.85 million in a British court but felt it was not enough because she believed Robert was worth about pounds 400 million. She appealed unsuccessfully.

Katina filed papers at the county circuit court in Michigan, referring to her husband as a greedy individual who she claimed would go to any lengths to preserve his fortune.

She alleged Robert received top secret British and CIA files in January 1995, for inside information on Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary prior to business trips.

Katina has appealed to the Supreme Court after the English judgment was ruled as "final" by the Michigan State Appeals Court.

Robert remains in London living as a recluse. Like his brother Kenneth he is limited to 120 days a year in the US.

FACTFILE KEN DART

Man who would be King of 'Dartania'

KENNETH Dart, 43, the middle brother, is worth pounds 2.7billion but it seems to have brought him little joy.

Over the years his behaviour, distorted by limitless wealth, has become increasingly unreal.

A few years ago he bought a crumbling resort on the western tip of Grand Bahama, a one-time haunt of the rich and famous, with an airstrip and marina. According to Tom, Ken bought the resort with the idea of setting up a separate country called "Dartania". This has never happened and the resort is now a ruin, overrun by wild dogs.

He is so desperate to hang on to his cash, his brother claims he told him was financing research into the human brain so he could keep his own alive after his body died.

He believed he could save his children from paying death duties because he was technically still alive.

Ken is determined not to pay income tax. Five years ago he renounced US

citizenship and has been in exile since.

He lives in isolation in a pounds 3.3 million guarded compound on an island in the Cayman Islands, rarely socialising or going out.

He could have anything he wants and yet he lives a strange nomad existence sometimes travelling the world in a private jet or aboard his 200ft luxury yacht, named after his mother but armoured to withstand torpedo fire.

His wife Janice and their three young daughters still live in Sarasota, Florida, at the family home. The girls hardly see their father.
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Title Annotation:Features
Author:Grant, Clare
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Sep 17, 1998
Words:1644
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