Juul is caught in a cat-and-mouse game with two cheeky entrepreneurs from New Jersey who appear to have gone to extreme lengths to keep their millions from the vaping powerhouse — risking possible criminal penalties in the process, The Post has learned.
Juul sued Gregory Grishayev, 34, and Michael Tolmach, 35, for trademark infringement in 2018 claiming their company Eonsmoke illegally marketed its vaping pods as “Juul compatible,” complete with packaging that looked eerily similar to Juul’s.
But rather than settle the case, Grishayev and Tolmach now stand accused of quietly stashing millions in corporate funds out of Juul’s reach — despite a federal judge having warned them last year not to touch the money “outside the ordinary course of business.”
In that same February 2020 ruling, New Jersey federal judge Kevin McNulty blasted the men for a series of brazen Skype messages showing them discussing how to keep their millions from Juul — warning them that he would not tolerate “LOL” as a response to his orders.
But just 10 months later, Juul was sounding the alarm on all kinds of alleged shenanigans — including millions of corporate dollars that were blown on personal expenses and millions more that were quietly moved offshore.
Many details of the pair’s alleged funny business are hidden from public view because court documents outlining them were filed under seal.
But publicly available filings show that Tolmach used $2.3 million of Eonsmoke’s money to buy a 3,900-square-foot mansion in Los Angeles’ Hollywood Hills last June, then spent another $341,000 on renovations, construction work and furniture.
That purchase — along with some other “unexplained” spending and money transfers — helped convince McNulty to freeze the men’s assets in December, court records show. Then it emerged that they had also moved more than $23 million of Eonsmoke funds into Swiss bank accounts held through trusts they secretly set up in the South Pacific’s Cook Islands, “a jurisdiction well known for sheltering assets,” Juul alleged in court records.
Tensions have gotten so high that lawyers for Grishayev and Tolmach earlier this month asked McNulty whether he intends to “pursue criminal contempt sanctions against the defendants,” court papers show. The judge declined to say one way or another but has demanded more information on the money transfers.
“While purposefully using JUUL branding to confuse customers that its illicit products were somehow related to Juul Labs, Eonsmoke flooded the market with pods featuring inappropriate flavors and packaging made with unknown ingredients under unknown quality standards,” said Juul spokesperson Austin Finan. “We will continue to enforce against illegal actors like Eonsmoke to help ensure the vapor category is comprised of companies focused on transitioning adult smokers from combustible cigarettes while following regulations and combatting underage use.”
Grishayev and Tolmach certainly look and talk the part of two 30-something businessmen from North Jersey willing to give a big middle finger to the system. Tolmach, who studied at Baruch College and Bronx High School of Science, sports shaggy black hair, aviator sunglasses and a Hollister T-shirt in his Facebook profile picture.
Grishayev’s photo on the social network shows him posing with a drink in front of a darkly lit bar. In another 2014 photo he posted, he’s seen in a tight-fitting gray T-shirt next to rapper Ja Rule, who he claimed was “hanging out in the office.”
“even if we lose the lawsuit, I will never sign check to Juul or ever pay them,” Tolmach allegedly wrote to Grishayev soon after Juul’s 2018 complaint was filed, court documents show.
“im not worried,” Grishayev wrote in a separate exchange that prompted the judge to warn the men against laughing about the case. “you can even still have same company [after bankruptcy] lol.”
Lawyers for the men have cast Juul as a corporate bully bent on snuffing out a tiny rival that offered consumers a cheaper alternative. Marc Agnifilo, the high-profile attorney whom Grishayev and Tolmach recently retained, declined to comment on the money transfers except to say that his clients will prevail against Juul’s trademark claims.
“We’re not prepared to comment on matters pending before the court, but we feel very confident in our litigation position and we look forward to a trial on the merits,” Agnifilo — whose previous clients include Nxivm cult leader Keith Raniere and “Pharma Bro” Martin Shkreli — told The Post.
Grishayev and Tolmach were riding high in October 2018 when Juul filed its lawsuit. They were promoting the pods via influencers like Kardashian ex Scott Disick, former porn star Mia Khalifa and a YouTuber named “DonnySmokes” who was reportedly paid $1,000 each time he reviewed an Eonsmoke item.
Revenues exploded from $2.3 million in 2017 to $30 million in 2018, court papers show. By 2019, Eonsmoke was raking in an eye-popping $90 million and Grishayev and Tolmach had bought Ferraris and Lamborghinis along the way, according to court filings.
But Eonsmoke shut down by April 2020 amid growing legal and regulatory scrutiny. The FDA sent Eonsmoke a warning letter in 2019 saying its products were illegal because they didn’t have the proper federal marketing authorization.
The firm’s use of influencers also landed it in hot water with both the FDA and the Massachusetts attorney general, who sued Eonsmoke in May 2019 alleging that it targeted underage consumers.
“Mom! It’s a USB drive!!,” Eonsmoke wrote of its devices in an Instagram post cited by the city of Denver, which also sued last year.
But less than a year after shuttering, Juul was complaining to the court that the company’s funds had also gone up in smoke.
“Because of Defendants’ asset dissipation — which was indisputably in willful defiance of the Court’s orders — the amount of Defendants’ assets in their US accounts has dropped from over $31 million in January 2020 to less than $500,000 now,” Juul said in a Feb. 3 filing.
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