Saints’ Owner Benson Is Infirm, Family Says

     NEW ORLEANS (CN) – The daughter and grandchildren of Tom Benson, owner of the New Orleans Saints, have filed for an interdiction to wrest control of more than $1 billion in assets from his third wife.
     The interdiction, filed last week in Orleans Parish Court by daughter Renee LeBlanc and her children Rita and Ryan LeBlanc says Tom Benson is infirm. The documents suggest Tom Benson’s wife, Gayle, has purposely isolated Benson from his family and associates and is making rash financial decisions in Tom Benson’s name.
     Renee LeBlanc is the daughter of Tom Benson by his first wife, Shirley, who died of lupus in 1980. Gayle is Benson’s third wife, whom Benson married in 2004, months after his second wife, Grace Marie Trudeau Benson, died of Parkinson’s disease.
     Gayle met Benson while purportedly seeking donations for a charity. According to the interdiction, Gayle, who is almost 20 years younger than Benson and a two-time-divorcee, had disastrous credit and had been sued multiple times both personally and professionally when she and Benson were married.
     Under Gayle’s charge, the lawsuit says, Benson’s longtime family doctor, caregiver and attorney have all been fired and replaced, and Benson is “for some reason, subsisting on candy, ice cream, sodas and red wine.”
     Benson, who is owner of both the Saints football and Pelicans basketballs teams, also owns several car dealerships. His business and assets are worth over $1 billion, court documents say.
     Until recently, Tom Benson and his grandchildren were “a happy family who loved and cared for each other and shared a passion for continuing the accomplishments of their patriarch Tom Benson,” the interdiction says.
     For many years, the document says, the family patriarch has been transitioning his business to Renee, Ryan and Rita.
     But more recently, with the decline of Benson’s health and mental capabilities, things have begun to unravel, and in the past several weeks, purported representatives of Tom Benson have attempted to take millions of dollars from Renee, Rita and Ryan’s trusts.
     The interdiction says Benson’s daughter Renee is part owner of the New Orleans Saints and Pelicans through various trusts.
     Also, in the aftermath of Katrina, Tom made his granddaughter Rita executive VP of administration of the Saints. She was 29 and still learning, but it was widely acknowledged she would someday be the owner.
     In 2012 Tom said publicly: “Rita is being prepared to take over for me, and that’s why she’s attending all of these things,” the lawsuit says.
     Rita is also part owner and vice chairman of the board of the New Orleans Pelicans, court documents say.
     The interdiction says that in 2009, after marrying Gayle, Benson created irrevocable trusts for Renee, Rita and Ryan and transferred to those trusts substantial portions of family business interests, including majority interests in the New Orleans Saints and the New Orleans Pelicans.
     In 2012, Tom Benson again created an irrevocable trust for Renee, Ryan and Rita.
     Also in 2012, the court documents say, Tom Benson submitted a notice of intent to the NFL for Renee, Rita and Ryan to be his successors in ownership of the Saints. This was reaffirmed by the Saints in 2014, the lawsuit says.
     When Benson married Gayle, she had previously worked in a dental office as a receptionist, then transitioned into a home-sales jewelry business and then tried to find work as an interior designer. “She and her businesses have been sued multiple times,” according to the interdiction.
     “Upon information and belief, Gayle has never owner, operated, or managed a substantial business enterprise, and has not received any formal training on how to do so. She has no documented experience in the management of automobile dealerships, football or basketball teams, or real estate.”
     Tom Benson underwent quadruple bypass surgery in 2001 but remained in relatively good health until just recently.
     “As Tom Benson’s health has declined in his 87th and 88th years, Gayle’s influence over Tom Benson has grown, and she has increasingly isolated and alienated him from family, friends, business associates and employees,” the court documents say.
     Tom Benson has suffered weakened health and numerous hospitalizations over the past year, the lawsuit says, some of which his family can only speculate about because they have not been fully informed of his medical issues.
     “In the past several months, Tom Benson has been heavily medicated. He has acknowledged to others that he has been having difficulty thinking and suffering from apparent memory lapses. He has appeared disorientated in public, including in press interviews. He has acknowledged on occasions that he does not know his age, where he is, what day of the week it is, nor what date it is. His speech slurs. He has had difficulty sustaining mental concentration on his own. He has admitted that he has been ‘mixed up,'” the interdiction says.
     “Under the apparent supervision of Gayle, the diet of Tom Benson has drastically deteriorated, with him rarely consuming full, nutritious meals, but instead, for some reason, subsisting on candy, ice cream, sodas and red wine.”
     Benson has difficulty walking and uses a walker. He rarely goes into his office, but when he does, he keeps irregular hours and often falls asleep, the documents say.
     They go on to claim that over the last several months, Gayle has prevented Benson’s family from knowing about his health or seeing him, and that she monitors Benson’s phone conversations by holding the phone for him and often even telling him what to say.
     “Sadly, Gayle’s apparent influence, combined with Tom Benson’s physical and mental infirmities, has led to some alarming decisions purportedly made by Tom Benson in the managing of his affairs and in his relationships with his daughter and grandchildren.”
     For instance, in summer of 2014, Benson tried to purchase the Fairgrounds Race Course and Slots – despite that it is against NFL rules for team owners to have interests in gambling facilities.
     In late September, Gayle launched a seven-horse stable named GMB (Gayle Marie Benson) Racing Stables. She spent $920,000 on horses sol in the prestigious Keeneland September Sale in Lexington, Kent.
     Thanksgiving is traditionally a big Benson holiday, with everyone celebrating together in Texas. In 2014, Gayle prevented Benson from celebrating either Thanksgiving or Christmas with his family, the interdiction claims.
     On December 27, Renee, Rita and Ryan say they received and email supposedly written by Tom Benson that said he never wanted to see them again and “absurdly purports” to ban them from ‘the Saints facilities or games, the basketball facilities of Pelicans games and purported to further remove their right to give direction or orders, or hire or fire any personnel, the interdiction says.
     At the end of December 2014, the U.S. Post Office was allegedly contacted to have all of Benson’s mail forwarded to an address outside of New Orleans, rather than to the San Antonio address where it had been going, and where Renee, Rita and Ryan were receiving their trust mailings. The trust mailing address was changed without their consent, the petitioners say.
     On December 2014, Rita was abruptly fired from the Saints. Alleged representatives of Tom Benson further told her to hand over the keys to her car immediately.
     On January 15, representatives allegedly tried to exchange hundreds of millions of dollars in assets to the irrevocable trusts that Tom Benson established for Renee, Rita and Ryan for only unsecured promissory notes that have little chance of being honored.
     The valuation purportedly submitted for the Saints and the Pelicans drastically underestimated the actual value – the Pelicans’ value fell from $650 million to $63.6 million and the Saints went from $1.1 billion to $351 million.
     “Of course, the attempt to extract hundreds of millions of dollars of assets from the Trusts, including the sports teams, was flatly rejected by the Trustee,” the interdiction says. Renee, Rita and Ryan still remain beneficiaries.
     Tom Benson has uncharacteristically failed to make payments due to his trusts and for miscellaneous monthly expenses, and on January 7 his bookkeeper, who worked in an office down the hall from Renee, was instructed to pack up and move to an undisclosed location.
     After that, millions of dollars were transferred from Shirley Benson’s trust, the court documents say.
     “Although the full nature and extent of Tom Benson’s infirmity are as yet unknown due to denial of direct access to Tom Benson and those providing him medical care, petitioners believe that an interdiction of Tom Benson is necessary to ensure that his person and property are appropriately protected,” the plaintiffs say.
     Renee Benson requests to be appointed curatrix of Tom Benson and his property, and that her daughter Rita be appointed under-curatrix.
     “Tom Benson indicated, while he had sufficient ability to communicate a reasoned preference, that Renee Benson should manage his affairs should he suffer from an infirmity rendering him unable to make reasoned decisions regarding the care of his person and property.”
     The interdiction was filed by Randall Smith of Smith & Fawer in New Orleans.

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