Daughter Sues Executors Of Jack Kent Cooke Estate

By Leef Smith
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 26, 2007

The teenage daughter of former Washington Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke is mired in debt and was forced to drop out of college for lack of funds, according to a $275 million lawsuit filed yesterday that alleges that the executors of her father's estate defrauded her.

Jacqueline Cooke, 19, currently receives $50,000 a year from a lifetime trust and has collected at least $200,000 from it since her father's death nearly 10 years ago. Her attorney, Benjamin Dick, said the payments are taxed and therefore have been insufficient to meet her needs. Those include her expenses at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, where she enrolled as a freshman in the fall. Cooke owes the school $23,000 and was not permitted to re-enroll in classes after Christmas break, her attorney said.

Dick said his client, desperate for funds to stay in school, even approached the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, which was established in her father's will to provide financial assistance to students in need. She was turned away, said Dick, who said Cooke was not available to comment.

"He'd be spinning in his grave right now if he knew" of Jacqueline Cooke's situation, said her mother, Suzanne Martin Cooke, who married Jack Kent Cooke in 1987, when he was 74 and she was 31. She was the third of his four wives. The two separated within weeks, and she later said she reneged on a promise to have an abortion. She received nothing in Cooke's will. The magnate was married to Marlene Ramallo Cooke when he died.

The lawsuit is the latest in a series of legal battles stemming from the estate of one of Washington's richest and most influential men. Jack Kent Cooke died in 1997, and the way he structured his estate left the fate of his cherished football team in question, and family members, past and present, jockeyed for pieces of his nearly $1 billion in assets. The vast majority of Cooke's money went to the foundation.

Cooke left his son, John Kent Cooke, the interest on $10 million, with an additional $15 million to be paid out over several years. Although John Kent Cooke owned a 10 percent share of the Redskins, he failed in his bid to buy the team from his father's estate, of which he is a trustee. The Redskins were sold in 1999 to Daniel M. Snyder for $800 million.

At the time of her father's death, Jacqueline Cooke was left a $5 million trust, which was structured to pay her $25,000 a year until she reached 16, when the annual payout jumped to $50,000. When she turns 21, payments are set to rise to $100,000. At 35, she will begin receiving annual sums equal to 8 percent of the trust, currently valued at more than $6 million.

Since before her birth, Jacqueline Cooke has been at the center of a series of court hearings and lawsuits stemming from her mother's short-lived marriage to the Washington magnate, a host of child support battles that spanned years and public squabbles over Cooke's will.

Jacqueline Cooke's complaint was filed yesterday in U.S. District Court in Dallas.

At the heart of the suit is language in Cooke's will that court documents allege was deleted in 2000 when the trustees of the Cooke estate conducted a tax reformation of Jacqueline Cooke's trust.

Dick said the trustees deleted the words "as necessary" from the part of the will pertaining to the disbursement of funds to Jacqueline Cooke for "education, health, maintenance and support."

"Her father intended funds as necessary to cover her education," Dick said. "But the trustees feel she's restricted to certain sums of money each year, and the trustees control the money."

Dennis I. Belcher, legal counsel for Jack Kent Cooke's executors, was also named in the suit along with others connected to the estate and foundation. He said he was unaware of the lawsuit and could not comment except to say that "Mr. Cooke made a very significant provision for his daughter in the will. I'm surprised to learn of the lawsuit, especially at this late date" nearly 10 years after Cooke's death.

Family members say Jacqueline Cooke's situation is a particularly painful one for the woman who developed a strong and loving relationship with her father during his final years.

Jacqueline was born in 1988. She didn't meet her father until she was 3, but the two developed a close bond, according to the lawsuit.

Included in the court documents filed yesterday are nearly two dozen letters that Jack Kent Cooke allegedly wrote to Jacqueline after he fell ill in November 1996. He died the following April from a heart attack.

In one letter, dated Dec. 12, 1996, Cooke wrote: "I want you to know that I love you beyond all things on earth. You're my angel, my little princess, and I'm your loving father who will love and protect you and be by your side forever."

A month later, on Jacqueline's ninth birthday, Cooke sent another letter, this one addressed to "my darling angel," explaining how he had deposited "another One Thousand Dollars" into her trust account.

"Have you any idea how much money this is going to mean to you by the time you're 21?" wrote Cooke. "Wow!"

Suzanne Cooke insists that her ex-husband never intended his daughter to want for an education and intentionally provided for her needs in his will. The $50,000 and other annual disbursements that Jacqueline Cooke has received since Cooke's death were not intended to pay tuition but rather were meant to be her "walking-around money," Suzanne Cooke said.

"I'm just distraught," Suzanne Cooke said. "We're doing everything we can to get her back into school. It's a very bad situation."

Jacqueline Cooke does not qualify for financial aid because of the $5 million trust, Dick said. Yesterday he was in talks with Dallas area banks to see whether the trust could be used as collateral to take out a loan to pay her tuition.

In the meantime, Dick said his client continues to suffer from depression.

"She's reached a point of total frustration," Dick said. "The fight over every dollar, the emotional suffering."

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