NEW ORLEANS -- New Orleans Saints and New Orleans Pelicans owner Tom Benson received a favorable ruling in October when a judge blocked an attempt to prevent court proceedings determining whether he can swap ownership shares in trusts for promissory notes.
Benson has been involved in a bitter legal battle with his estranged daughter and grandchildren for the last year; and the trial over the case is set for June.
The three trusts were set up for Benson’s daughter, Renee Benson, and her two children – Rita and Ryan LeBlanc, and overseen by San Antonio Attorney Mary Rowe. According to reports, the trusts hold more than $260 million in assets, and include 95 percent in Pelicans’ stock and 31 percent in Saints’ stock.
U.S. District Judge Jane Milazzo denied the motion for dismissal filed by Rowe, in which she argued that the Eastern District of Louisiana federal court did not have jurisdiction over the billionaire’s estate.
Rowe was ordered by the court to take over a group of trusts Benson created in 2012, after the original trustee, Robert Rosenthal, resigned.
Attorney Craig Mordock of the Mordock Law Group has followed the Benson legal battle since it first became public and stated that the prolonged dispute will not be resolved anytime soon.
“Mr. Benson has a trust for each of the kids set up, where there are non-voting shares of Saints and Pelicans stocks in the trust, and the trust is set up and governed by a set of rules and regulations,” Mordock recently told the Louisiana Record. “One of the rules was that [Benson] was allowed to substitute assets of equal value. And what he did was he tried to take the Saints’ shares and substitute them with IOUs, basically, for money that was substantially less."
Rowe's attorney has noted in court filings that the value of the NBA and NFL teams has not been determined because no third-party evaluation of the teams' worth has been made, which brings into question what assets Benson intends to use to back up his promissory notes.
Rowe alleges Benson's plan to pay off the value of the team assets in full by 2039 indicates that he does not have enough property of equal value to replace the assets.
Benson announced last January that his wife, Gayle, would take over ownership of the franchise in the event of his death. He had initially granted ownership to his daughter and grandchildren. Renee and her children filed a lawsuit arguing that their 88-year-old father and grandfather was incompetent to run the teams due to mental decline, and that Gayle and an inner circle of team executives were influencing his decisions.
The heirs stated in the lawsuit that Benson met Gayle just a few months after his second wife died and the two married shortly after. The heirs also stated that “Gayle’s influence over Tom Benson has grown” as his health has declined in the last two years, and that she has “increasingly isolated and alienated him from his family, friends, business associates and employees.”
A New Orleans judge disagreed with the heirs’ assertion; and after an eight-day trial, ruled that Benson was competent enough to run the teams.
Benson also owns several automobile dealerships in the New Orleans and San Antonio areas, and became wealthy by investing profits from his automobile dealerships in local banks.