Saints and Pelicans owner Tom Benson put $522 million worth of promissory notes in his former heirs’ trust funds Monday in an effort to reclaim nonvoting shares in the teams that are held by the trusts, a New Orleans federal court filing on Friday showed.
Benson, 88, is suing San Antonio lawyer Bobby Rosenthal and a co-defendant who are stewards of the trusts that hold the Saints and Pelicans shares for the benefit of Benson’s daughter, Renee Benson, and her children, Rita and Ryan LeBlanc.
The twice-widowed Benson wants to reclaim those shares out of the trusts so that when he dies, his third wife, Gayle Benson, will inherit complete ownership of the Saints and Pelicans.
Benson once intended for his daughter and grandchildren to inherit his sports teams and other businesses in Louisiana and Texas, but in January, he announced he was altering his plans to leave everything to Gayle.
It is legal for Benson to take back the shares in the teams from the trusts as long as he replaces them with assets of equal value. But Rosenthal has argued that Benson hasn’t proposed a fair swap, and he has thus far blocked the Saints and Pelicans owner from his goal.
The filing Friday recounts how Benson tried to reclaim the shares in the two sports franchises from the trusts in January in exchange for $400 million in promissory notes. But Rosenthal refused to sign off on the trade, and in a separate federal lawsuit against Benson, he alleged that the estranged relatives weren’t being offered enough compensation to be pushed aside.
On Monday, the filing said, Benson put $478 million worth of promissory notes into one group of trusts benefiting Renee Benson and her children. He put promissory notes worth $44 million in a separate trust, making a total of $522 million.
The increased offer followed the completion of a new appraisal of the Saints’ and Pelicans’ worth, the filing said.
Benson’s attorneys reiterated their belief that the proposal to replace the nonvoting shares in the teams with the promissory notes is fair and appropriate. But Rosenthal has pointed out in the past that some of those notes wouldn’t be fully due until Benson is 112, if he’s still alive by then.
Benson argues that it doesn’t matter whether he dies before the notes are fully due. The notes would become obligations of his estate after his death, his attorneys argue.
The federal suit involving Benson and Rosenthal is tentatively scheduled to go to trial next summer. It is separate from an Orleans Parish Civil District Court lawsuit that Renee Benson and her children filed in February seeking to have their family patriarch declared mentally incompetent to make decisions such as excluding them from any role in his businesses.
The judge presiding over that case ruled in Benson’s favor in June, but his jilted relatives are appealing that decision. The appeal is pending in Louisiana’s 4th Circuit Court of Appeal.