Deceased heiress' estate seeks gifts returned
Her nurse was showered with almost $28 million in gifts, including three Manhattan apartments, two homes elsewhere and a $1.2-million Stradivarius violin. Her doctors' families received more than $3 million in presents. A night nurse received a salary plus money to cover her children's school tuition and to help buy two apartments.
Now the court-appointed official overseeing copper heiress Huguette Clark's estate wants all these gifts -- and more -- back.
Saying the recipients manipulated the reclusive multimillionaire into lavishing largesse upon them during her long life, public administrator Ethel J. Griffin is trying to reclaim a whopping $37 million for the $400-million estate.
A court will likely have to reconstruct the intentions and mental state of an eccentric woman who died at 104 last year, and discern whether manipulation or gratitude was behind the gift-giving.
Another issue is how well Clark was advised by her lawyer and her accountant. Both have come under scrutiny for their management of her affairs.
The public administrator's court papers portray a frail, secluded Clark exploited by a scheming retinue. But recipients say Clark was a generous, independent-minded woman who did exactly what she wanted in enriching people around her.
A daughter of a Montana senator who amassed his Gilded Age wealth mining copper, building railroads and founding Las Vegas, the childless, briefly married Clark owned the largest residence on Fifth Avenue and mansions in California and Connecticut.
But the last 20 years of her life, she voluntarily spent in two Manhattan hospitals.
In the quarter-century before her hospitalization, she averaged less than $40,000 a year in taxable gifts. That amount shot up afterward, the public administrator said in a May 22 court filing.
Private nurse Hadassah Peri made a salary that reached $131,000 a year, and she got roughly $28 million in real estate, jewelry, checks and other gifts, the public administrator said. Peri's family also received another $3 million. A handful of other nurses and doctors got more than $4 million among them.
Accountant Irving Kamsler got $435,000 in gifts; lawyer Wallace Bock got $60,000 plus the emotional payoff of shepherding a more than $1.8-million contribution from Clark for a security system for the Israeli settlement where his daughter lives.
A judge suspended Bock and Kamsler from overseeing Clark's estate in December, after the public administrator said the two had underpaid her gift taxes by tens of millions of dollars; Kamsler resigned days before being ousted.
Neither Bock nor Kamsler has been charged with a crime, and both have denied any wrongdoing.
But recipients say Clark did act freely, and knowingly. Clark herself wrote many of the disputed checks; Bock wrote others, with Clark signing documents authorizing them.
"The record will show that Wally Bock acted in Huguette Clark's interest at all times, and that he continues to desire to carry out her wishes," his lawyer, John D. Dadakis, said by phone.
"This was a very generous woman" who made gifts to people she rarely or never saw, said Peri's lawyer, Harvey E. Corn. "It's absurd to think that she would not give gifts to the individuals who worked with her."
Lawyers for other recipients named in the public administrator's filing either declined to comment or didn't immediately return calls.