When Huguette Clark’s will was filed six months ago, art lovers in Santa Barbara were delighted: The bluff-top estate owned by the reclusive 104-year-old copper heiress was to be transformed into a museum.
It was an exciting but uncertain prospect at the time, largely because the museum was to be established by Clark’s attorney and accountant — longtime advisors whose ethics had been questioned in news reports and in legal actions by Clark’s relatives.
The possibility grew even dimmer Friday when a New York City judge suspended the pair as Clark’s executors, citing accusations of massive tax fraud.
At a hearing in Surrogate’s Court, which rules on estate matters, Surrogate Kristin Booth Glen pointed to charges by the New York public administrator’s office that the pair caused Clark’s estate to lose more than $50 million.
In court filings, the office said attorney Wallace Bock and certified public accountant Irving H. Kamsler should be removed “by reason of their dishonesty, improvidence, waste, and want of understanding.”
New York prosecutors have been investigating alleged mismanagement of Clark’s estate for more than a year. No criminal charges have been filed, and John Dadakis, an attorney for both men, said his clients had always acted “in Clark’s best interest and at her express wishes.”
For outsiders, Clark’s intent was hard to divine. A 2005 will left most of her fortune to the distant relatives who were her only family. But another will — drawn up just six weeks later — directed Bock and Kamsler to turn Bellosguardo, a grand home Clark hadn’t visited for at least 50 years, into a repository for her extensive art collection.
Also included in the will was a bequest of more than $30 million for Clark’s longtime nurse, Hadassah Peri.
The change of heart came about as Clark, who was then 98 and living in a New York hospital, reflected on her legacy, according to a spokesman for Dadakis.
Clark’s relatives have challenged the Bellosguardo will, saying Bock and Kamsler designed it to allow themselves unlimited access to Clark’s wealth. Named as executors in both wills, they stood to make millions in fees alone.
Under Friday’s ruling, the pair may apply to the court for reinstatement. That could be a tough case to make, with the public administrator contending they filed false tax returns, charged Clark for work they never did, lied to the IRS and allowed their client to give more than $56 million to individuals, including themselves and Peri.
In Santa Barbara, Mayor Helene Schneider said Clark “was as mysterious in death as she was in life.”
“I just hope that this can come to a conclusion that befits her legacy,” she said.