(Bloomberg)—A feud between PulteGroup Inc.’s founding family and a top executive at the homebuilder has spilled out in public with a lawsuit accusing the company’s incoming chief operating officer of orchestrating a smear campaign.
Bill Pulte, best known for using his Twitter account to give cash to followers, alleged in a civil complaint filed Wednesday in Palm Beach County, Florida, that newly named PulteGroup COO Brandon Jones has used a network of Twitter bots to harass and defame the family.
Pulte, 34, alleges that Jones appropriated the identity of a dead person, impersonated a business journalist and used Twitter to contact Detroit newspapers in service of his campaign. In one instance, Pulte claims that a Twitter account controlled by Jones insinuated that a different family member committed arson at the famed Oakland Hills golf course in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. The lawsuit also accuses Jones of making a false claim that Pulte manipulated his grandfather, the company’s founder.
PulteGroup was not named as a defendant in the lawsuit. Jones did not respond to efforts to reach him through the company and LinkedIn.
“Having recently been made aware of certain social media activity by a company executive, we are conducting a thorough investigation to determine the facts and whether there has been a violation of our company’s standards and policies,” a spokesman for PulteGroup said in an emailed statement.
PulteGroup, the third-largest homebuilder in the US, has had a contentious relationship with its founding family in the past. In 2016, Pulte’s grandfather – who founded the company as a teenager in 1950 – pushed for the removal of then-Chief Executive Officer Richard Dugas, arguing that the executive’s aggressive land purchases had exacerbated the impact of an earlier housing market crash. The battle eventually lured in famed activist investor Elliott Investment Management.
Bill Pulte joined the company’s board of directors around that time. Pulte claims that he’s the only one of the founder’s descendants to receive an inheritance, according to the lawsuit.
He opposed the promotion of Jones to COO in board meetings, according to the lawsuit. Pulte left the board role in 2020. Jones later received the promotion to COO, with the company saying in October that he would be elevated to the position at the beginning of next year following the retirement of another executive.
In recent years, Pulte has devoted himself to a pursuit he calls Twitter Philanthropy. Pulte, who has 3.2 million followers, often sends cash to people he meets on Twitter, sometimes earmarking the funds for household expenses like rent, utility bills or dinner out. He and his Twitter audience raised more than $2.5 million for the family of a teacher killed in the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, the lawsuit says.
On Tuesday, Pulte tweeted a statement saying that his family had backed Elon Musk’s Twitter. He also retweeted a meme depicting Musk smiling in front of a freshly dug grave. The tombstone reads: “Bots.”
To contact the author of this story: Patrick Clark in New York at [email protected]
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