The question is as simple as it gets. Who do you believe?
The stakes are massive. Who will control the future of the fortune behind the NFL and NBA franchises in New Orleans? The parties in question are pro sports magnate Tom Benson, his third wife Gayle Benson, to whom he wants to entrust his legacy, and his former heirs who he wants removed from the family trust, Renee Benson and Rita and Ryan LeBlanc.
The family feud playing out in southern courts went another round this week with the release of a deposition the 88-year old patriarch gave in late March as part of a lawsuit he’s filing against trustees managing funds which contain ownership rights to the Saints and the Pelicans.
“Well, they tried to kill me for one thing,” Benson said. “I found out they didn’t love me very much, trying to stab me in the back, wanted to take over everything, brought me to court saying I was crazy. You don’t need any more than that.”
In the deposition, Benson goes on to describe a confrontation with his wife Gayle and his daughter Renee that had previously been attributed to Rita LeBlanc, his granddaughter who once was his handpicked successor.
“I think Renee and Rita and maybe Ryan was there too, came over to our suite and started saying things,” Benson said. “I’m trying to watch a football game. And they started picking on Gayle. And it got so bad, Renee shook her, and I said, ‘That’s enough, let’s go.’ Gayle and I left the game.”
Benson says he wants his former heirs to receive “zero dollars” in the trust after they sued him last year with allegations that a mental decline was behind his decision to transfer future ownership to his wife. According to the Times-Picayune, New Orleans Civil District Judge Kern Reese found the owner competent last year after a closed-door trial, and that ruling has been upheld upon appeal.
Even so, the LeBlanc’s attorney, Randy Smith, said Friday that the deposition proves Benson is not in his right mind.
“Obviously, my clients love Tom Benson,” Smith told the Times-Picayune. “They’ve loved him their whole lives. … Obviously, they never tried to kill him. Obviously, they’ve always loved him. This just shows what we’ve been saying, that they’ve been trying to protect him if he really thinks that.
“The memory is obviously gone,” Smith said.