Making their first public comments since their dispute with Tom Benson became headline news, the daughter and grandchildren of the Saints and Pelicans owner said Wednesday they “have every intention of carrying on our father and grandfather’s legacy for future generations by continuing to support ... New Orleans ... and the (teams) as we have consistently done in the past.”
“(Tom Benson’s) wish is to see the New Orleans Saints and New Orleans Pelicans flourish as world champions,” read a written statement from his daughter Renee Benson and her children Rita LeBlanc and Ryan LeBlanc. “We share his wish.”
Renee Benson and the LeBlancs thanked those who have offered them support and encouragement ever since Benson in late December barred them from future dealings with the Saints, Pelicans or other businesses he owns in Louisiana and Texas.
They also said, “New Orleans is where these teams belong and must remain,” and they suggested their legal fight with the family patriarch was an effort to protect him from making unwise decisions.
Benson in January announced he no longer wanted Renee Benson or her children to participate in his businesses. He said he reached that decision after years of worrying about their professional competence, something the relatives vehemently dispute. Upon his death, the twice-widowed Benson said, he wants his third wife, Gayle Benson, to inherit his businesses.
His daughter and grandchildren have since alleged that the 87-year-old Benson is being unduly influenced to cut them out of his life while in a weakened physical and mental state.
The Advocate on Wednesday obtained emails and documents that could support claims by the relatives that their access to Benson was cut off abruptly and fairly recently. Benson’s camp denies that.
One of the documents — labeled “confidential” — explains how, in response to a June 2 memo from the NFL’s Finance Committee, Benson declared that when he died his Saints ownership shares would go to a trust set up for the benefit of Renee, Rita and Ryan. Rita would represent the ownership group at NFL meetings, it said, but if league rules required one individual to be the “voting trustee,” that would be Renee.
Benson attorney Paul Cordes said Wednesday that the document was merely a standard, required response to the league office.
Emails then show Renee, Rita and Ryan were not directly sent some messages regarding Benson that were distributed to several people.
On Aug. 7, Gayle Benson sent one such email that reported Benson was recovering well from a knee procedure requiring him to wear a large bandage and receive four stitches. Recipients included Saints quarterback Drew Brees, head coach Sean Payton, general manager Mickey Loomis, media personality Angela Hill and another Benson granddaughter, Dawn — but not Renee, Rita or Ryan.
After Renee, Rita and Ryan received a forwarded copy of that message from Saints and Pelicans President Dennis Lauscha, Renee Benson responded in part, “So (Tom Benson) has this done without any of us knowing ... This is not how our family does things!”
A source familiar with the situation said that email was related to an occasion when Benson visited an emergency room in West Virginia, when the Saints were holding a portion of their 2014 training camp there. The source said Rita rode in the ambulance to the hospital with Gayle, Tom Benson and trainer Reggie Stone. The source said if Renee was unaware of her father’s condition it was because Rita had not told her.
In response to Renee’s email, Lauscha wrote that Rita had been at the hospital with Benson. “I was not,” Lauscha wrote.
In a reply email to Lauscha on Aug. 7, Rita wrote that every time she was at the hospital with her grandfather, she “was kept in the public waiting area.”
Another email from Gayle, dated Sept. 4, reported that Benson was well after a knee procedure that morning; it again was not sent to Rita, Renee and Ryan, who were forwarded a copy by Lauscha.
On Nov. 21, Rita requested that an attorney draft a letter asking her grandfather’s physicians to keep at least Renee apprised of Benson’s medical status.
Cordes asserted the relatives “all had access to Benson during this time” and were kept informed of his condition through Lauscha. Randy Smith — a lawyer for the relatives — declined to comment on the documents.
The Associated Press first obtained those emails and documents and reported on their contents.
This story has been updated since it was first published, in part to add newly-received information.