Sources close to Saints say Gayle Benson is firmly in charge
NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - People close to the Saints and Pelicans organizations say they expect little change now that Tom Benson has passed.
They say hard-fought litigation firmly established Benson's third wife, Gayle, as being in charge, and they say Mr. Benson established a proven team to run the day-to-day operations.
Three years ago, Tom Benson faced a bitter legal battle for control of his billion-dollar sports empire. The team's late owner took the fight hard.
"It's not fun to have your kids turn against you, it's for the birds," Tom Benson said during the heat of the trial back in June of 2015.
After tough battles in state and federal court, Tom Benson's will gives Gayle control of the Saints and Pelicans. The three heirs who were removed - Renee, Rita, and Ryan - still have minority, non-voting shares in the teams.
"Very difficult for him, but just like all the things in his life, he stiffened up, and got through it." said Benson attorney Phil Wittmann, saying the court cases left Gayle Benson firmly in charge.
"They signed off on it, and they know exactly what they agreed to do," Wittmann said. "And Gayle and the organization have the authority to continue what was set up in the settlement agreement."
And Mrs. Benson is in the process of solidifying her position, under court order.
"Mr. Benson, when he died, was in the process of acquiring the non-voting shares, and I think that will continue," Wittmann said.
"In my opinion, this is possibly the best outcome," said author Kathy Finn, who wrote the book, "Tom Benson:A billionaire's journey."
Finn said the management team Tom Benson put together, consisting of Dennis Lauscha, Mickey Loomis and Greg Bensel, will likely remain in place, and she and others expect Gayle Benson to be an active owner.
"I think she will get involved in personnel decisions, that's my opinion," said Finn.
"Gayle Benson won't be a wallflower. She will be involved, and she has been involved," said Jeff Duncan, with NOLA.com | The Times Picayune.
It is an ownership deal already approved by both the NFL and the NBA. Some expect Gayle's guidance will be good for New Orleans.
"We have the best possible outcome...we have an owner who loves the city, and it's hard for me to imagine her taking these teams out of the city," said Finn.
But it's too soon to say if all the litigation is over.
Attorney Wittmann said Tom Benson's will heads back to Orleans Civil Court for distribution of assets in about three weeks. Some say it may face another legal challenge.
We reached out to Randy Smith, the attorney for the other three heirs, for comment, but have not heard back.
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