Embroiled in a family feud related to who will inherit his NFL and NBA franchises as well as other properties when he dies, Saints and Pelicans owner Tom Benson went on television Wednesday night to bite back at allegations he’s mentally unfit to make his own business decisions and declared, “There’s nothing wrong with me.”
“People (have) got something wrong,” Benson told Fox Sports New Orleans reporter Jen Hale in an interview during the station’s broadcast of the Pelicans’ basketball game at home against the Denver Nuggets. “I’ve been to the office, putting in a full day’s work, and I feel fine.”
Benson spoke while watching the game from his suite at the Smoothie King Center.
Word first spread on Jan. 21 that Benson wished to change a previously approved succession plan that upon his death would have made his granddaughter, Rita LeBlanc; daughter, Renee Benson; and grandson, Ryan LeBlanc, the primary owners of the Saints, Pelicans and other businesses in Louisiana and Texas.
The person he now wishes to inherit the Saints, Pelicans and other businesses of his in Louisiana and Texas is his third wife, Gayle, whom the two-time widower married in 2004.
The financial publication Forbes estimates the football and basketball teams alone are worth $1.76 billion combined.
Having been fired as employees of their family businesses, Ryan, Renee and Rita promptly challenged Benson’s new plans in court, filing a civil suit on Jan. 22 that alleged the 87-year-old patriarch was being unduly influenced while in a weakened mental and physical state. Benson countered that decisions regarding his franchises and other properties are his alone, and that he reached them after years of seeing that his previously designated heirs were professionally incompetent.
Rita, Renee and Ryan also contend that Benson is improperly attempting to wrest away assets he had folded into an irrevocable trust he had set up for their benefit. Benson argues they’ll still continue to enjoy hundreds of millions dollars no matter what happens, and one of his lawyers — Paul Cordes — on Wednesday said his client has never ceded a single voting share to anyone, giving him the right to reverse course on anything he wants.
Benson wasn’t served with his estranged relatives’ lawsuit until Wednesday. He was conducting a meeting with senior staff on future Pelicans ticket pricing plans when a process server handed him the suit.
Advocate staff writer Perryn Keys contributed to this report