The two men appointed to oversee a Texas trust that Tom Benson was temporarily suspended from managing urged the Saints and Pelicans owner this week to seek “a peaceful resolution” to the sprawling legal war he and his now-estranged daughter are waging against each other.
“This suit has ensnarled an honorable family and replaced love and affection with distrust and tears,” former San Antonio Mayor Phil Hardberger and estate lawyer Arthur Bayern wrote of the Bensons in their inventory of the assets and liabilities of the trust they’ve been assigned to watch over. “There are many victims. This lawsuit may provide clarity. But it will not bring tranquility.”
Hardberger — who as mayor once tried to persuade the Saints to permanently relocate to his city when they played three games there in 2005 after being displaced during Hurricane Katrina — and Bayern continued, “Courtrooms are not the ideal venue for happiness. The typical result of litigation is a deepening of the wound.”
The two temporary trustees of a trust set up for the benefit of Renee Benson, a daughter from the twice-widowed Tom Benson’s first marriage, made their appeal after sorting out the assets and liabilities of the fund they were asked to monitor in early February.
It had been previously spelled out that the trust created for Renee Benson by her late mother, Shirley, owns stock in Bensco Inc., a Texas corporation whose subsidiaries include car dealerships in San Antonio and New Orleans; a controlling interest in Lone Star Capital Bank, which has multiple branches; and real estate.
But Bayern’s and Hardberger’s inventory, filed late Wednesday, included previously undisclosed details. Among the trust’s properties, it revealed, are four houses in Old Metairie and one on Lake Tahoe, near the California-Nevada state line. Other assets include three bank accounts worth about $8.13 million, collectively.
Bayern and Hardberger’s inventory reiterates that among the trust’s liabilities is a debt of $206,997 owed to the holding company for New Orleans’ NFL franchise. Bayern and Hardberger have requested permission from a judge to pay off that debt.
But Bayern and Hardberger dispute a debt of about $17.7 million that Benson has long said he’s owed by the trust.
“It is not clear at this time whether some or all of the ($17.7 million) account payable balance is a bona fide debt owed to Mr. Benson,” wrote Bayern and Hardberger, who hired the Texas financial firm Padgett-Stratemann to assist with the inventory.
Meanwhile, Renee Benson claims the trust owes her $108,321 she paid in insurance and property taxes related to her company Uptown Blanco, which purchased and renovated a city block’s worth of vacant buildings outside San Antonio. Padgett-Stratemann said it could not determine whether Renee Benson is entitled to that money.
Hardberger and Bayern said they needed help from Padgett-Stratemann because “no inventory of the trust was prepared or maintained by the trustee, and there are inconsistencies related to the trust assets reflected in various documents as well as deficiencies in the recordkeeping of the trust.”
While they said all of that “made the preparation of a current detailed inventory of the assets of the trust difficult,” Hardberger and Bayern lauded “the remarkable generosity of Benson to his family in the past.”
“It is not particularly surprising that mistakes could be made considering the multiplicity of trusts, settlements, corporations and other business entities involved in this estate,” they said. “The tangle of legal instruments through the years dealing with this vast wealth could give a legal scholar headaches.”
The 87-year-old Benson in January announced that he wanted to bar his daughter and her children, Ryan and Rita LeBlanc, from any more dealings with his sports franchises and other businesses.
He had previously designated Renee and her children as the primary inheritors of his nearly $2 billion business empire when he died, but he said he’d decided he wanted his third wife, Gayle, to eventually assume control of his various Louisiana- and Texas-based properties.
The ensuing legal wrangling between Benson and Renee and her children has included civil suits in various state and federal courthouses in New Orleans and Texas.
One of Renee’s moves was to ask a Texas judge to suspend her father as overseer of the trust created by her mother. The judge in February suspended Benson as overseer and gave that role to Hardberger and Bayern.
Another front of the legal battle centers around a lawsuit filed in Orleans Parish Civil District Court by Renee and her children that questions Benson’s mental competence to make his own business decisions.