Sumner Redstone says ex-girlfriends made off with $150 million, leaving him 'in debt'

Billionaire Sumner Redstone is suing two former companions for what he says was elder abuse, alleging in court documents that the two women schemed to isolate him from his family as they drained his financial accounts.

The ailing 93-year-old mogul contends the two women, Manuela Herzer and Sydney Holland, received gifts totaling more than $150 million during a five-year spree that left the controlling shareholder of Viacom Inc. and CBS Corp. “in debt” due to tax obligations triggered by those “gifts,” according to the civil lawsuit filed Tuesday in Los Angeles County Superior Court.

“They manipulated and emotionally abused Redstone to get what they wanted — jewelry, designer clothing, real estate in Beverly Hills, New York, Paris and money — lots of it,” Redstone’s attorney, Robert Klieger, wrote in the 30-page complaint.

The lawsuit paints an extraordinary picture of how deeply the two women were ensconced in Redstone’s life. By 2014, they had fired longtime members of his household staff at his Beverly Park mansion, arranged for him to be treated by a new physician and even hired a new attorney, who helped the mogul revise his estate plan. Redstone that year cashed large amounts of stock in Viacom and CBS, and then turned over the proceeds to the women, with each receiving $45 million, according to the lawsuit.

“They had bags of cash delivered to Beverly Park almost daily, typically bundled in stacks of hundred-dollar bills,” the suit said. “They had carte blanche with Redstone’s credit cards, regularly charging thousands of dollars per day.”

The lawsuit detailed some of the charges: Holland racked up more than $2 million to Redstone’s credit cards in 2014, including $58,461 at Saks Fifth Avenue and $752,737 at Tracie Butler Interior Design. That same year, Herzer’s charges totaled $1.5 million, including $128,780 at Barneys and $82,624 at Hermes, court records say.

Representatives of Herzer and Holland said Redstone freely gave the women the cash and other gifts with the knowledge of his attorneys. They also alleged Redstone’s daughter, Shari, was behind the court action. 

“My client has a 20-year close relationship with Mr. Redstone that can’t be erased by the filing of civil complaint that lists incomplete, misleading, and false allegations,” Herzer’s attorney Ronald Richards said in an email. “Sumner Redstone has given numerous women, other than my client, millions of dollars of gifts and property over the years.”

A representative of Holland said: “This lawsuit is fictional revisionist history. The fact is, Mr. Redstone’s attorneys and doctors vetted and approved all payments to Ms. Holland.”

Tuesday’s filing is the latest in a series of lawsuits that have reverberated throughout Redstone’s $40-billion empire that includes Viacom and CBS in the last year. The legal drama began nearly 14 months ago when Redstone learned his live-in girlfriend, Holland, was having an affair with another man. Redstone banished Holland from his mansion, and about six weeks later, he also became suspicious of Herzer and her motivations. Then he kicked her out.

Herzer sued in November 2015 to regain her status as Redstone’s healthcare agent. Her court papers described in stark and embarrassing detail how the health of the once feared mogul had rapidly deteriorated in the previous year, and how he was prone to crying spells. Unable to walk, he had to be carried around his home and he struggled to speak coherently. Nonetheless, Herzer said in her suit that escorts were called to the home in order to feed the mogul’s large appetite for sex.

Herzer’s legal action exposed deep rifts within the Redstone family and tensions in Viacom’s boardroom. Redstone reunited with his estranged daughter and stepped down as executive chairman of the companies. Then a corporate feud erupted over whether the cash-strapped Viacom should sell its Hollywood movie studio Paramount Pictures to a Chinese firm. 

A Los Angeles judge in May dismissed Herzer’s claims, and a later volley of lawsuits challenged the leadership of Viacom. Those suits were settled in August with the ouster of Viacom Chief Executive Philippe Dauman.

Redstone’s lawsuit this week was, in part, structured as a response to Herzer’s legal campaign. The suit demands a repayment of the $150 million, and for the two women to cover the mogul’s legal fees.

Holland’s representative said she “does not believe the claims in this lawsuit are Mr. Redstone’s sentiments, but rather are those of Shari Redstone.” 

Shari Redstone, through a spokesperson, declined to comment.

Herzer, 53, who was born in Argentina but immigrated to the U.S. in 1966, met Redstone at a dinner party in 1999, around the time that his wife of 52-years, Phyllis, filed for divorce. Redstone was introduced to Holland, who was raised in La Jolla, about a decade later, following his divorce from his second wife.

Holland, 45, for a brief period about a decade ago, was running a match-making business called the Inner Circle. VIP Social Club.  Soon after she began dating Redstone in 2010, she met Herzer. Holland was wary at first, but eventually became “comfortable that Herzer was not a romantic rival,” the suit said.

Before long, the two women developed a bond.

“They made an unlikely but winning team — Herzer, the brains of the operation, who Redstone had known for years and trusted … and Holland, the younger beauty who had Redstone wrapped around her finger,” Redstone’s suit said.

Redstone’s lawsuit alleges that the two women conspired to drive Redstone’s other girlfriends from his life, and then isolated the mogul from his daughter and her children. 

“Herzer and Holland explained to Redstone that they were the only ones who loved him … and if they left he would die alone,” the suit said. The lawsuit alleged that Holland occasionally had Redstone’s nurses sedate him with the drug Ativan, “a technique that Holland and Herzer also employed when they wanted Redstone to sign documents without asking lots of questions,” the suit said.

The court papers contained a March 2014 email between Holland and Herzer, which included a list of items to cover with an estate attorney regarding the mogul’s estate.

One line from Holland’s to-do list: “The first thing is changing the trust to add both of our names on it. How many people does Sumner need to remove to achieve that?”

Another item Holland suggested: “Having Sumner gift us some of the [stock grant] monies now rather than waiting until after he dies.” The email ended with: “I’m sure we will think of more later. xo.”

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meg.james@latimes.com

@MegJamesLAT


UPDATES:

6:55 p.m.: This article was updated with additional details.

The article was originally published at 12:50 p.m.

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