Benson family drama, told in letters and court filings

Published: Jan. 23, 2015 at 1:58 AM CST|Updated: Jan. 23, 2015 at 6:35 PM CST
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Tom Benson allegedly authored and emailed a letter to his daughter and two grandkids. That letter was included as part of a lengthy court filing Thursday that asks a judge to make Benson's daughter, Renee, executor of her father's sports and business empire.

On December 27, Tom Benson allegedly wrote:

"During the over 80 years of my life, I have built a rather large estate which was intended to mainly be for you all as my family. Suddenly after I remarried you all became offensive and did not act in an appropriate manner and even had arguments among yourselves which created a very unpleasant family situation which I will not stand for. It made me very unhappy and uncomfortable. This situation cannot continue at my age. Because of the facts set out above and the heart break you have caused me I want no further contact with any of you and you will not be allowed to enter the Saint's facilities or games, the Basketball facilities or Pelicans games, the Benson Towers, the T.V. facilities or the automotive facilities in New Orleans and will have no right to give directions, orders or hire or fire any of the personnel."

Benson signed it, "Sincerely yours, your father and grandfather, Tom Benson."

According to the suit, the letter was delivered by email "on a Saturday" and "was signed in a way that Tom Benson would not use to address his family."

The suit alleges a coup by Gayle Benson, to get control of her husband's assets away from his daughter and grandchildren. It says Benson started irrevocable trusts for Renee, granddaughter Rita and her brother Ryan, and transferred to those trusts substantial portions of family business interested including majority interested in the Saints and Pelicans.

The lawsuit paints Gayle Benson as manipulative and opportunistic, and alleges she has taken advantage of her husband's state of health.

According to Rita Leblanc's attorney, Tom Benson's health "has declined" recently and "Gayle's influence over Tom Benson has grown and she has increasingly isolated and alienated him from family, friends, business associates, and employees."

The suit alleges, "Gayle never informed Renee, Rita, or Ryan of Tom Benson's impending knee surgery in May of 2014," and "Sadly, Gayle refused to permit Renee, Rita, or Ryan to see Tom Benson either before or after the surgery."

The suit continues to paint a picture that questions Benson's health and mental state, alleging, "Tom Benson has been heavily medicated," and "he has acknowledged to others that he has been having difficulty thinking and suffering from apparent memory lapses. He has acknowledged on occasions that he does not know his age, where he is, what day of the week it is, nor what the date is. His speech slurs."

The suit goes on to claim that Benson "forgets the names of his doctors, and on occasion the first name of his current wife Gayle... Furthermore, when Tom Benson was recently asked who the current President of the United States was, he replied Ronald Reagan was the president. After being told that Reagan was not the current president, Tom Benson's second guess was Harry Truman."

The lawsuit alleges a coup by Gayle Benson to snatch control of the Benson business empire, and says "Gayle screens almost all, if not all, of Tom Benson's phone calls, emails, and regular mail."

On Christmas Day of 2014, the suit says, "Gayle scheduled a Christmas event with certain employees and their families, but prevented Tom Benson from spending the Christmas of 2014 with his immediate family." The suit says spending Christmas together was usually important for Tom Benson and his family.

The suit says Tom Benson "may be the victim of undue influence" and asks the judge to appoint a "board-certified psychiatrist" to determine Benson's mental state.

Three days after Tom Benson allegedly typed out the email saying he wanted no more contact with his daughter and grandchildren, Rita Leblanc claims she received another letter from the Saints' executive director of human resources,"terminating her employment with the Saints... as well as terminating all of Rita's employment-related benefits, without cause or explanation."

Louisiana's first family of football is at war, fighting over control of an empire worth more than $1.7 billion.

Rita Leblanc and her family are represented by Randy Smith, a local attorney at Smith Fawer.

They sent the suit to one of Benson's attorneys, Phil Wittman at Stone Pigman.

Smith released a statement late Thursday afternoon, writing, "Sadly, the Benson family was forced to take this action in the best interest of Tom Benson and his legacy, the customers of the Benson family automotive dealerships, the employees of all of the family enterprises, and the multitude of Pelicans and Saints fans."

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