Yesterday, New Orleans Saints and Pelicans owner Tom Benson's daughter and grandchildren filed a lawsuit seeking to block his recent and curious decision to cut his family members out of his life and name his third wife, Gayle Marie LaJaunie Bird, heir to his ownership of both teams. We now have a copy of the full lawsuit (which you can read at the bottom of the page), and it is a doozy.
The suit portrays Gayle—by the way, Gayle Marie LaJaunie Bird is a great name for an alleged gold-digging Southern socialite—as a manipulative presence in the 87-year-old Benson's life, concerned only with extracting as much money as possible from Benson while he is in a mentally and physically weakened state.
The suit alleges that Benson has been unfit to handle his own business affairs for some time now, citing serious health issues and alleged moments of dementia. For example:
Upon information and belief, he routinely has to ask what day it is. Also, upon information and belief, Tom Benson forgets the names of his doctors, and on occasion the first name of his current wife Gayle. Furthermore, upon information and belief, when Tom Benson was recent asked who the current president of the United States was, he replied that Ronald Reagan was the president.
According to the suit, Gayle has taken advantage of Benson's declining health by systematically isolating him from his family and colleagues. Gayle allegedly cleared Benson's home of any photographs of his family and replaced his longtime doctor, lawyer, and personal caregivers with people of her choosing. She purportedly screens all of Benson's phone calls and emails, and has been overheard coaching Benson while he is on a phone call. There is also this bizarre bit about Gayle's alleged influence on Benson's diet:
Upon information and belief, 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.
The suit also claims that Gayle prevented Benson from seeing his family at Thanksgiving and Christmas, and has been routinely canceling board meetings for several of his business on his behalf.
On Dec. 27, 2014, Benson's daughter, Renee, and her two children, Rita and Ryan, received a strange letter (which can be read below), supposedly written by Benson, telling them that they had been completely cut out of the family business, and that Benson never wanted to see any of them again. The letter also claimed that they would be banned from all future Saints and Pelicans games, and would not be allowed on any premises owned by Benson.
Three days later, Rita received word that her employment with the Saints had been terminated. On Jan. 5, 2015, she received a letter from a representative of Benson informing her that the lease her company held at Benson Tower had been terminated due to a failure to pay rent. Two days later, the suit claims, Benson instructed all of his car dealerships to remove Rita, Ryan, and Renee from the facility should they show up. According the suit, the signature on the letters giving those instructions are "shaky and questionable."
Perhaps the strangest portion of the suit details a recent attempt by representatives of Benson to forcibly extract assets, including the Saints and Pelicans, from a trust that had previously been established in Reene, Rita, and Ryan's names. The trust provides Benson with the option to swap trust assets for other assets of "equivalent value," and so he apparently tried to exchange the Saints and Pelicans for unsecured promissory notes. The weird thing is, the promissory note that he tried to exchange for the Pelicans was only valued at $63,650,00, and the one he tried to exchange for the Saints was valued at $351,380,00. Neither of those figures come anywhere near what the Saints and Pelicans are worth. If you're looking for evidence that Benson is either not all there or being manipulated, a complete misunderstanding of the value of his own sports franchises might be it.