After court setback, estranged Benson heirs not giving up

May 5, 2016

NEW ORLEANS (AP) The estranged daughter and grandchildren of New Orleans Saints and Pelicans owner Tom Benson say they won't abandon their effort to prove their patriarch has been manipulated into appointing his third wife the sole heir to his sports empire.

Renee Benson and her children, Rita and Ryan LeBlanc, were dealt a legal setback this week when the Louisiana Supreme Court declined to hear their appeal of a lower court decision last June that deemed Tom Benson competent to manage his own affairs.

But in a statement released Thursday, the spurned heirs assert that ''truth will emerge,'' and that they ''encourage those with relevant information to continue to come forward.''

''We fear that the law as it currently stands allows a person whose mental capacity is questioned to be kept from the stand, and important information to be kept secret, a situation which we believe allows those manipulating someone in a weakened state to conceal the truth,'' said the statement issued by the estranged heirs' lawyer, Randall A. Smith. ''Renee, Rita, and Ryan love and miss Tom Benson very much and will continue to try to protect him however they can.''


Tom Benson, 88, and his wife, Gayle, responded to the statement from Louisville, Kentucky, where they have two horses set to run Saturday in Kentucky Derby.

''While certain members of my family continue to harass me with negative threatening statements, I continue to plan for the future,'' Tom Benson's statement said. ''Nevertheless, the ingratitude shown by certain members of my family, despite the vast financial and other benefits I have given them, is very hard to accept.''

In January 2015, Tom Benson fired his daughter and her two grandchildren from executive positions with the Saints and Pelicans, and announced his decision to make Gayle Benson, whom he married in 2004, the sole heir to the NFL and NBA clubs. In doing so, he has attempted to removed shares of his teams from irrevocable trusts set up for his daughter and grandchildren - which he may do, so long as he replaces those shares with assets of equal value.

So far, trustees have denied Tom Benson's attempted asset swap, saying it is unclear whether the deal would short-change his estranged heirs. Tom Benson, in turn, has sued the trustees in U.S. District Court in New Orleans in an attempt to force the swap.

That case is still pending.