Former Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling’s lavish gifts to friend V. Stiviano – including millions of dollars in luxury cars, a duplex and cash — are legally hers to keep, an attorney for Stiviano told a Los Angeles County judge Wednesday.
The lawyer's argument came during closing statements of a trial in which Shelly Sterling is attempting to recoup more than $3 million in gifts that she alleges Stiviano seduced her husband into giving her.
Shelly Sterling claims that her husband had no right to spend millions of dollars on Stiviano, whom she accuses of being Donald Sterling's mistress.
A judge will soon decide whether Stiviano, 32, will have to return the gifts, which include a Ferrari, two Bentleys, a Range Rover and a duplex near Beverly Hills.
Stiviano was at the center of last year's controversy that led to Donald Sterling being stripped of his ownership of the NBA team after she recorded him making racially charged remarks.
Attorneys for Shelly Sterling say Donald Sterling used shared assets to pay for the gifts and that she never gave her consent.
But Stiviano’s attorney has asserted that the gifts were made during a time when the Sterlings were separated and that Shelly Sterling and her attorneys cannot prove that Donald Sterling was the source of some of the gifts.
On Friday, Stiviano testified that she met Sterling in 2011 and eventually began working for the Donald T. Sterling Foundation.
She also accompanied him nearly every day, driving him to appointments, events and dinners. While she never had a written employment agreement, she was compensated for her work in cash gifts or checks.
“He wanted me to spend every day and hour with him,” she said.
Stiviano said that Donald Sterling told her to not worry about her finances.
“I will help you financially and help you take care of your family,” she said Sterling told her.
Stiviano insisted that the relationship was not sexual and that instead Donald Sterling served as her mentor. She said he was a father figure, but that they were also best friends with a strong bond who often traveled the world together.
“We were so interconnected on a level where it was more spiritual,” she said. “He became my everything and I became his all.”
Stiviano was among many who received cash and gifts from Sterling, who often handed out envelopes of cash to friends and associates, she said. Stiviano testified that Shelly Sterling was well aware of the gifts her husband made to Stiviano.
When asked by her attorney if she ever manipulated Donald Sterling into giving her gifts or money, Stiviano broke into tears.
“Never,” she said.
In closing arguments, attorney Pierce O’Donnell, who represents Shelly Sterling, told Superior Court Judge Richard L. Fruin Jr. that Donald Sterling used assets he legally shares with his wife – known as community property – to pay for gifts for Stiviano. Stiviano and her attorney failed to prove that the Sterlings were separated at the time of the gifts, O’Donnell said.
The Sterlings, who both testified earlier this week, have maintained that they’ve never been separated. Donald Sterling described Stiviano as an “ex-friend” and denied that they had a sexual relationship. He recalled paying for the duplex, but said he could not remember some of the other gifts.
Shelly Sterling never signed off on the gifts, as would be required for such expenditures, and Donald Sterling and Stiviano colluded to hide the purchases, O’Donnell said. During trial, O’Donell played an audio tape that he said depicted Donald Sterling and Stiviano colluding to hide the purchase of the house.
“The tapes were Donald’s undoing,” O’Donnell said. “Now they’re V.’s undoing.”
Attorney Mac Nehoray, who represents Stiviano, said Shelly Sterling did not adequately prove that her husband was the source of the gifts. Under law, Nehoray argued, Shelly is not able to seek the return of the gifts from the recipient, in this case Stiviano, because of her husband's actions.
O’Donnell asked a judge to order Stiviano to return less money than initially identified as gifts by a forensic account, opting instead for a more conservative figure of about $2.8 million.
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