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August Busch III testifies in Maris suit.

Associated Press-- Anheuser-Busch didn't violate federal antitrust rules in its dealings with a central Florida distributorship started by baseball slugger Roger Maris, the brewing giant's CEO has testifed.

August A. Busch III took the stand last Monday as a defense witness in a federal civil suit brought by Maris Distributing, the former distributor of Anheuser-Busch products in the Gainesville-Ocala area.

Maris, who held the record of 61 home runs in a season before it was broken by Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa in 1998, died in 1985. His family continued operating the business after his death.

Maris Distributing, which once considered selling shares to the public or selling out to a publicly held company, alleges that Anheuser-Busch violated antitrust laws by prohibiting public ownership of any wholesale distributorship. It has filed civil suits in state and federal court against Anheuser-Busch, which earns $10 billion a year in revenue.

Busch testified that privately owned distributorships are more successful than publicly owned ones because there's less bureaucracy with private owners and more interaction between the wholesaler and its customers.

Maris Distributing was started by the baseball star in 1968. Maris, who was traded from the New York Yankees to the St. Louis Cardinals after the 1966 season, was given the distributorship by team owner August Busch Jr. as a reward for helping the team win the 1967 World Series.

The legal wrangling between the parties began in 1997, when the brewery terminated its wholesaler agreement with Maris Distributing during buyout negotiations.

In response, the family accused Anheuser-Busch of undervaluing the distributorship during the buyout offer. The offer, initiated by Anheuser-Busch, would have let Maris Distributing sell the business only to the brewery, or an approved third party.

Officials with Maris Distributing had looked into selling part or all of the company to public investors. But a clause in the contract between Anheuser-Busch and Maris prohibited any public ownership.

Maris officials contended that the clause forced the business to shut down, costing it about $49 million, court records show.

Anheuser countersued, accusing the distributor of concealing the sale of old beer and claiming that it ended the wholesaler agreement because of misconduct by Maris Distributing.

Maris lawyers allege that studies and internal memos show Anheuser-Busch prohibits distributorships from going public so it can pressure and control the family owned businesses.

Today, Anheuser-Busch holds a 59 percent share of Florida's beer market and has over $1.5 billion invested in the state. Busch attributed much of that market dominance to the ability of Florida wholesalers to provide a necessary personal touch.

"The wholesaler for us is the most important link," Busch said. "Without our wholesalers, we have nothing ... It's a personal selling business. It's a personal relationship."

The Maris trial began on Sept. 26 and is expected to last at least two more weeks.
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Title Annotation:Maris Distributing lawsuit
Publication:Modern Brewery Age
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 13, 2000
Words:470
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