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Revised Mel Simon estate suit calls Bren 'abusive'

April 21, 2010
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Melvin Simon’s daughter Deborah is lashing out at her stepmother Bren in a new court filing, saying  she was “mentally and verbally abusive” toward the billionaire late in his life and kept him isolated from friends and family.

The amended complaint, filed Tuesday in Hamilton Superior Court, alleges Bren committed fraud and exercised undue influence over Melvin when he made changes to his estate plan in February 2009 that dramatically increased the share of his fortune earmarked for her.

Deborah sued in January, seeking to throw out the revised plan, which Melvin signed seven months before he died at age 82. Her attorneys filed the amended complaint, replete with new allegations, following a judge’s ruling last month that the original complaint failed to allege fraud with “sufficient specificity.”

The amended complaint casts Bren, 66, as domineering and deceitful, saying she secretly had Melvin’s direct telephone line rerouted to security employees answerable to her, so that she could screen all his calls.

“In fact,” the complaint alleges, “Bren would not allow Melvin to receive calls unless she screened them first, and she lied about doing so when Deborah questioned why she was not able to reach her father by phone.”

Further, Deborah charges that Bren was “verbally abusive during this period, regularly screaming and yelling at him, badgering him, belittling him, cursing him, and calling Melvin vulgar names.

“When Melvin would not acquiesce to Bren’s wishes, Bren would order Melvin’s assistants to keep him away from her, which ... effectively cut Melvin off from the outside world for extended periods of time.”

An attorney for Bren declined to comment.

Deborah contends her father was suffering from dementia and didn’t understand what he was doing when he revised the plan, boosting the share of his fortune going directly to Bren from one-third to one-half.

The changes also wiped out a portion that was to go to Deborah and her siblings from Melvin’s first marriage—Cynthia Simon-Skjodt and David Simon, the chairman and CEO of Simon Property Group—and left charitable gifts stipulated in prior versions to Bren’s discretion.

Bren, 66, who married Melvin in 1972, contends the changes fully reflected his wishes.

In the amended complaint, Deborah also charged that:

— Late in Melvin’s life, Bren signed his name on documents without a notation that she had done so. For example, she signed his name to papers that authorized the transfer of tens of millions of dollars out of Melvin’s accounts into her own, according to the filing.

— An attorney for Bren contacted Lawrence Jegen—a professor at the IU School of Law in Indianapolis who had been Melvin’s estate attorney for more than 30 years—about revising his estate plan, but never followed up with him after he said he would have to discuss proposed revisions directly with Melvin.

— Marianne Hellauer, a Baltimore attorney representing Bren, made numerous false and misleading statements to Melvin about the revisions and why he should approve them. Hellauer could not be reached by IBJ for comment.

Melvin Simon was one of Indiana’s richest men. Forbes magazine in March 2009 estimated his net worth at $1.3 billion. Shares of Simon Property, his principal holding, have zoomed higher since, perhaps pushing the value of his fortune past $2 billion.

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