The estranged daughter and grandchildren of Tom Benson are selling the last three of the late Saints owner's San Antonio car dealerships, marking an end to the Benson family's interest in the lucrative Texas car businesses that paved his way to the fame and eventual fortune of professional sports franchises in New Orleans.
Mark Woods, a veteran of the San Antonio automotive industry, confirmed Thursday that he is finalizing the purchase of Chevrolet, Mercedes-Benz and Honda dealerships owned by Renee Benson and her children, Rita LeBlanc and Ryan LeBlanc.
Woods is the son of the right-hand man of B.J. "Red" McCombs, himself a San Antonio car dealer, former owner of pro sports franchises, and one of Tom Benson’s most prominent business rivals. But the younger Woods dismissed speculation that either his father, Gary Woods, or McCombs is involved in the transaction.
“Nobody else is trying to buy this but me," Woods said. "I am very excited to continue the entrepreneurial legacy of the Benson family.”
The purchase — which is pending the completion of a due diligence phase — makes sense, Woods said, because the three dealerships have good reputations and are only about a mile from a Ford dealership that he owns.
Bennett Stahl, an attorney who has represented Renee Benson and her children in San Antonio, didn’t immediately comment on the impending sale Thursday.
Benson died in March at age 90, leaving behind a business empire that included the New Orleans Saints and Pelicans and other New Orleans companies. But he made his fortune investing in auto dealerships and banks in the San Antonio area before buying New Orleans’ NFL team in 1985 and its NBA team in 2012.
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At one point, Benson owned roughly 30 auto dealerships across Texas and Louisiana. Over the years, as the value of the Saints skyrocketed and he acquired the NBA team now known as the Pelicans, he sold many of those dealerships and a number of other business interests as he focused more on his sports empire.
The dealerships that Mark Woods intends to take over were the last three in Texas with ties to Benson.
The twice-widowed Benson at one point wished to leave the reins of his billion-dollar business empire to his daughter and grandchildren.
But, after a falling out with them, he appointed his third wife, Gayle Benson, as his successor. She has owned the Saints, Pelicans and other businesses — including Dixie Brewing Co. and some car dealerships in New Orleans — since his death.
Benson’s decision to name Gayle as his successor kicked off a two-year legal battle that erupted into public view in January 2015, with his family members arguing over the byzantine rules related to several family trusts.
An Orleans Parish Civil District Court judge rejected a suit by his jilted heirs challenging his mental capacity to alter his succession plans.
Two other cases were settled out of court. One, in federal court, centered on lucrative partnership shares in the Saints and Pelicans that Benson wanted to reclaim from trust funds he had set up to benefit the estranged relatives his confidants had nicknamed “the three R’s,” for Rita, Renee and Ryan.
The other, in a state court in San Antonio, involved control of a trust fund created by the late Shirley Benson, Benson’s first wife and the mother of Renee.
As part of the settlement in that case, Renee Benson and the LeBlanc siblings assumed ownership of three car dealerships on San Pedro Avenue in San Antonio, plus various other properties mostly in Texas.
Renee Benson and the LeBlancs did not attend Benson’s funeral at St. Louis Cathedral in the French Quarter. They were given a private viewing of Benson’s body and then held their own memorial service in San Antonio.
Benson occasionally drew comparisons to McCombs, who turns 91 this month. McCombs once owned the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings as well as the NBA's San Antonio Spurs.
Mark Woods does not work for McCombs, but his father has been president of McCombs Enterprises for decades.
Tom Benson was remembered Monday at a memorial Mass in San Antonio, where he first earned his fortune and where the daughter with whom he publ…