NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - Tom Benson's daughter, Renee, testified in a San Antonio courtroom Wednesday that Gayle Benson would not let her speak to her father. The testimony comes as a judge in Texas is set to decide whether to continue a freeze on some of Benson's assets.
Renee Benson at times broke down on the witness stand when asked about her current relationship with her father. Our partners at NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune live blogged the testimony.
Renee at one point said, "I really want to tell him that I love him very much, and I really want some quality time with him."
Renee says Gayle started requiring the family to call her in order to reach Tom. In 2012, Renee alleges that Gayle stopped answering her calls. So Renee purchased her father an easy-to-use flip phone, which was then lost.
Tom Benson's attorney, Phil Wittman asked Renee on the witness stand, "You don't like your father's wife do you?"
Renee responded, "That's hard to say, can I qualify that? I think she is an intelligent woman. She can put on stockings standing straight up...but she has kept a lot of people away from my dad, including myself."
Renee, along with her children Rita Benson Leblanc and Ryan Leblanc, says Tom Benson isn't competent to control the Shirley Benson trust, for which they are beneficiaries, or to make sound decisions about his business empire. On the witness stand, Renee said her father always made sure property taxes and insurance were paid by the trust, but those weren't paid recently.
Back on Jan. 21, Judge Tom Rickhoff in San Antonio ordered a temporary restraining order, freezing the trust.
"The trust here involves the Lone star Capital Bank, the control of the Lone star Capital Bank, and it concerns the automobile dealerships here in San Antonio," Wittmann explained.
Renee, Rita and Ryan want a doctor to examine Benson. But a filing in New Orleans Civil District Court by Benson's attorneys Tuesday says the billionaire is healthy and fine, and his family is on a fishing expedition. "Mr. Benson is perfectly competent to manage his own affairs and affairs of the trust, still. He's been very successful with this trust over the years," Wittmann said.
While testifying on the stand Wednesday in San Antonio, Renee Benson said the family was shocked when they received a letter from Tom in late December saying he wanted no contact with them.
Renee said, "I don't believe he's able to talk with me."
Wittmann contended, "He doesn't want to see you anymore."
"I don't know that for a fact sir, I'm sorry...he begged me to come see him on December 1," Renee replied.
In fact, Renee says she flew to New Orleans from Texas the next day. Gayle Benson wasn't home when Renee arrived at their house. She said she and her father were discussing their Johnson City ranch when Tom's assistant brought him the phone, saying Gayle was on the line. Renee said of Gayle, "(she) immediately starts screaming...'what's she doing there? Don't talk to her.'"
Renee then told the judge of her father, "I have not seen him since December 2."
The hearing in San Antonio will continue Thursday. Renee Benson's attorneys want the judge to extend the freeze on the trust. Then they'd be able to move forward with replacing Tom Benson as the trustee.