The co-founder of an embattled tornado shelter company says his former business partner put profit above human life by cutting corners on safety design.
Tornado Masters of Alabama co-founder Randy Butler spoke exclusively with WHNT News 19 on Tuesday, accusing company president Les Holt of greed and reckless operation.
The Alabama Attorney General's office has frozen all activities for Tornado Masters of Alabama, after an investigation allegedly found major structural defects with many of the company's storm shelters.
Butler says the dream of helping to run his own business quickly turned into a nightmare shortly after Tornado Masters launched in Toney in 2008. He left the company less than a year later.
"The only thing I can say is, it's about time," said Butler, who claims he was strong-armed out of the company by Holt and his father after raising objections on safety design. "They promised me they would do what they were supposed to do, but they didn't, and shut me out of the business. In layman's terms, it's doing things you're not supposed to do."
Butler says he was initially impressed with Les Holt's confidence and savvy marketing skills, but said things soured after Holt allegedly wanted to move away from Tornado Masters' concrete shelter model to a less reliable form of steel.
"Les wanted to shortcut it, cut the ribs out of it, things that give it [shelter] structural soundness," said Butler. "I disagreed with him. You cannot cut corners on building these kinds of structures for people, and he wanted to cut corners because it cost money. He wanted to cut the cost on them."
Butler also said Holt and his father embezzled an unspecified amount of Butler's share of the profits. Butler has since filed a multi-million dollar lawsuit against Holt, and told WHNT News 19 that he is cooperating with the State Attorney General's investigation. The ongoing probe said many of Tornado Masters' shelters were "poorly constructed, untested, and unsafe."
"When I got into business with him [Les Holt], I told him there's no way that I was going to be involved with anything that dealt with people's lives that could harm them," said Butler. "He only cares about the money."