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Defendant Calls Assets Fight ‘Sick’

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Despite what she called a “sick” struggle over $11 million in assets, Helen Westin Ruppert testified Thursday that she did not ask two men to extort a property settlement from her ex-husband.

Ruppert said the incident last Jan. 22--during which the two men threatened to burn Harold Ruppert, 65, with a lighted road flare--capped nearly nine years of marital strife, five of which the couple spent in the same Laguna Beach house after their divorce.

“For any two people to pay attorneys to go through what we went through is totally sick,” Helen Ruppert testified, estimating that legal costs alone have run into several hundreds of thousands of dollars. “It’s been impossible for five years.”

Ruppert, 61, faces six years in prison if convicted of conspiracy, extortion, burglary and assault with a deadly weapon in connection with the incident.

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After 3 1/2 years of marriage, the Rupperts divorced, but the couple spent five more years alternately negotiating and litigating a property settlement. During that time, they lived in separate parts of a $600,000, 3,000-square-foot home.

Both Rupperts were involved in the real estate business in Southern California, Helen Ruppert testified.

She said that she felt a court-ordered division of the couple’s assets, handed down on Oct. 25, 1990, after two years of proceedings, was not fair. She requested a new trial on Nov. 5, 1990, but that was denied on Jan. 7, 1991. Two days later, she filed another appeal.

At about this same time, Ruppert testified, she asked Richard Nimmo, a precious metals dealer: “Would you be willing to talk to Hal (Ruppert)? . . . Would you ever consider talking to Hal . . . just talk to him” about a new settlement?

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When Nimmo agreed, Ruppert said, she had an alternative settlement drawn up, one which would have given her about $600,000 more than the court-ordered settlement. This would have included majority ownership of the home.

Ruppert said she then spoke to her ex-husband and asked if he would be willing to discuss a settlement with her that would avoid further prolonging the costly legal proceedings. Helen Ruppert said that she would not meet her ex-husband alone, and he suggested that she bring someone along. No date was set for the meeting.

But Ruppert testified that she never had any intention of meeting with her ex-husband herself, that she wanted Nimmo and Ralph Pueschel, a longtime family friend, to persuade her ex-husband to sign the new agreements, although she was in her section of the house at the time.

“Richard (Nimmo) would go up and talk to him,” Helen Ruppert said, “to see if he could get further with him than I could.”

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After calling the two men, who were waiting nearby in a rented car with a cellular phone, Ruppert testified that she called her ex-husband.

“I said: ‘Hal, are you interested, do you still want to settle?’ ” she said. “ ‘There are two gentlemen to see you. . . . Do you really want to settle?’ ”

Helen Ruppert said she asked Pueschel, who is 6 feet, 6 inches tall and 225 pounds, to accompany Nimmo “so that Hal would feel more comfortable,” because she said her ex-husband would recognize him. “I wouldn’t send someone Hal knew to scare him.”


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