More than a year ago, videos posted of comics legend Stan Lee in which he assured his many fans that some of his closest personal and professional relationships were “great” and strong caused consternation. Lee did not look and sound well in the clips — which were first posted on entertainment and gossip sites, including TMZ — and he was being recorded and apparently prompted off-camera by Keya Morgan, who was already a controversial adviser and confidant at the time.
In those videos, Lee — who died seven months later at age 95 — denied being a victim of elder abuse and said that such accusations against Morgan amounted to “slander.” Lee threatened to sue over media coverage that cast Morgan’s role and actions in a negative light.
On Sunday, Morgan appeared in Maricopa County Superior Court on a charge of being a fugitive of justice, the Associated Press reported. Morgan, 43, had been arrested in Arizona the day before and accused of “fleeing California charges of fiduciary elder abuse,” the AP said.
The list of charges against Morgan back in California is long, including theft, embezzlement, forgery/fraud against an elder and false imprisonment of an elder. Prosecutors say Morgan took more than $262,000 made from Lee’s autograph sessions last May.
Morgan’s arrest is a reminder of just how contentious the care and managing of Lee had become by early 2018, as glimpsed in the videos shared online.
The circle of people intimately close to Lee became openly fractious after the death in 2017 of Lee’s longtime wife, Joan. For most of their seven decades together, he credited her with providing the inspiring wisdom that helped launch Marvel Comics in the 1960s — when a series of industry-altering books formed the foundation of what would become a multibillion-dollar empire.
Buoyed by characters he created or co-created — many of whom are on view in this year’s record-setting “Avengers: Endgame” — Lee eventually amassed a personal fortune that some media reports estimated to be between $50 million and $70 million.
Amid such wealth, the inner circle of people who sometimes had competing interests included J.C. Lee, the Marvel editor’s heir and only child, whose spending sparked conflict, according to some close to Lee; longtime road manager Max Anderson; excommunicated caregiver and business partner Jerry Olivarez; and Morgan, the former memorabilia manager who first befriended J.C. Lee.
After several concerning reports in early 2018, an extensive article by the Hollywood Reporter’s Gary Baum published in April 2018 stoked alarm about Lee’s care. That same month, Morgan shot the video in which Lee said to the camera: “My relationship with my friend Keya Morgan is great.”
Saying that he just wanted “to set the record straight,” Lee spoke positively, though haltingly, of his relationship with his daughter, too. Added Lee: “I’m beginning to learn who my enemies are.”
On June 10, Lee said in a video posted to his verified Twitter account: “If you can’t get me, call Keya Morgan. The two of us work together and are conquering the world side by side.” The accompanying tweet said: “My only partner and business manager is @KeyaMorgan not all the other people making false claims.”
Morgan was arrested and charged the next day with “filing a false police report by calling 911” after detectives and a social worker conducted a welfare check on Lee. A restraining-order application was also filed that month against Morgan, accusing him of “taking advantage of Lee’s impaired hearing, vision and judgment,” as well as of moving Lee to a new residential location in Southern California and blocking family access to Lee.
The LAPD had begun investigating claims of elder abuse against Lee in February of last year, multiple media outlets reported.
It was reported later that month that Lee said he made such video statements under duress, according to outlets such as Deadline.
In August, a judge granted the restraining order to bar Morgan from contact with Lee. Variety reported that Morgan was accused of embezzling “artwork, cash, and other assets worth more than $5 million.”
Alex Kessel, a lawyer for Morgan, has said his client never abused or exploited Lee, the AP reported.