Sumner Redstone Sues Ex-Companions for Elder Abuse to Reclaim $150M in Gifts

Redstone says Manuela Herzer and Sydney Holland manipulated and emotionally abused him to get what they wanted.
Patrick McMullan
From left: Manuela Herzer, Sumner Redstone and Sydney Holland

Now that the Viacom-related lawsuits have been resolved, Sumner Redstone's legal team has set its sights on his two former companions.

Redstone on Tuesday filed an elder abuse lawsuit against Manuela Herzer and Sydney Holland, seeking to reclaim $150 million in gifts he had given them.

"They manipulated and emotionally abused Redstone to get what they wanted — jewelry, designer clothing, real estate in Beverly Hills, New York, and Paris, and money, lots of it," writes attorney Robert Klieger. "By the time Redstone threw Herzer and Holland out of his home, and out of his life, last fall, they had taken him for more than $150 million and left him in debt on account of the immense tax obligations triggered by those 'gifts.'"

Redstone's health and mental capacity have been at the center of both personal and business battles during the course of the past year. At 93 years old, he needs help from his nursing staff to get around his home and, according to the suit, he now communicates using an iPad that has been programmed with his voice thanks to excerpts of interviews and speeches.

This suit claims the women took advantage of the aging Redstone, using their feminine wiles to "commandeer" his life. They fired his doctors, nurses and household staff and isolated him from his family, telling the mogul that his daughter and grandchildren hated them and instructing security not to allow them near his Beverly Park mansion.

Interestingly, it's the same argument Herzer used in the lawsuit she filed after she was kicked out of the mansion last fall. She claims Redstone's inner circle, especially his daughter Shari, had brainwashed him because his deteriorating mental state made him susceptible to undue influence. 

Redstone's attorneys argued that the 93-year-old knew exactly what he was doing when he made that choice. Klieger hinted that this lawsuit was in the works back in May, just minutes after a judge tossed Herzer's first lawsuit midtrial. 

The suit alleges that as soon as Holland realized Herzer wasn't a romantic rival, the two joined forces to secure their place in his estate plan — Herzer was the brains and Holland was the beauty. 

In 2014 alone, the suit claims, Herzer and Holland racked up a $3.5 million tab on Redstone's credit cards. But his liquid assets weren't enough. Klieger includes in the lawsuit an email from Holland to Herzer that alludes to a plan to gain access to $200 million in vested Viacom and CBS stock options, restricted stock units and performance stock units.

"On March 21, 2014, Holland emailed Herzer that she was 'compiling a list of things that I think we should cover when you meet with [the lawyer],' including the possibility of Redstone cashing out his options, RSUs, and PSUs and giving them the money now, rather than 'waiting until after he dies,' and changing Redstone's charitable foundation 'so that we can run it now and after Sumner's demise,'" writes Klieger in the complaint.

To get Redstone on board, the two companions told him that Shari and her children would sue them as soon as he died and they could not afford to defend themselves. The mogul resisted, but Herzer and Holland kept pushing, eventually convincing the mogul his family hated him and they were the only ones who really loved him. "If he loved them back, he would cash out," Klieger writes. "If he did not, he would die alone." In May 2014, Redstone cashed out. The same day, he transferred $45 million each to Herzer and Holland.

The suit claims Redstone's estate attorney wouldn't change his plan to put Herzer and Holland in control, so they brought in a new lawyer. That lawyer, Leah Bishop, insisted that a geriatric psychiatrist evaluate Redstone to assess his competence. Redstone claims his companions then spent hours coaching him prior to that meeting and he was "reduced to tears" because of their claims that his family hated him and he would die alone if he didn't support them. The amended estate plan was filed in June 2014, putting the women in control. 

After Redstone was hospitalized that fall, his daughter Shari met with one of his nurses, Joseph Octaviano, who told her about the emotional abuse he had witnessed. He promised to keep her informed of what was happening within the house. (Cue Herzer's $100 million spying lawsuit.)

"Herzer and Holland took far more than Redstone's money," writes Klieger. "They took five of his last years of his life. They took time away from his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. They took his pride and his dignity. Redstone brings this action to recoup his material losses. Neither law nor equity is capable of restoring the rest."

Redstone is suing for elder abuse, breach of fiduciary duty, fraud and intentional infliction of emotional distress — and at least $150 million in damages. (Read the full complaint below.)

Herzer's attorney Ronald Richards sent The Hollywood Reporter a statement on Tuesday: "The lawsuit has no merit whatsoever. ... All of the gifts Mr. Redstone made to my client and to Sydney Holland were made with his full knowledge and blessing." 

Richards says Redstone has given numerous other women millions in gifts and property over the years and this "frivolous lawsuit" is nothing more than Shari Redstone continuing to manipulate her father. "Mr. Redstone continues to be victimized by his daughter and her surrogates," he writes. "Hopefully, in defense of this lawsuit, his true state of mind will finally come to light." 

This suit comes on the heels of Herzer's decision to fire attorney Pierce O'Donnell and file a lawsuit against him and his firm claiming they convinced her to front $500,000 of Keryn Redstone's legal fees. O'Donnell says the lawsuit is baseless and he expects it to be quickly dismissed.

Holland issued a lengthy statement Tuesday afternoon, which also blames Shari Redstone: “This lawsuit is fictional revisionist history. Doctors have testified twice in recent months that Sumner Redstone was of sound mind and, most recently, that he was mentally competent to make such critical and complex business decisions as orchestrating the departure of his long-serving chief executive at Viacom, changing its Board of Directors and, currently, exploring a merger between CBS and Viacom. This is directly contradicted by the claims in this lawsuit that state that Mr. Redstone’s physical and mental state were so impaired that he could be easily manipulated. Both cannot be true. The fact is, Mr. Redstone’s attorneys and doctors vetted and approved all payments to Ms. Holland. Out of respect and caring for Mr. Redstone, Ms. Holland has stayed out of the recent legal fray and did not assert claims that she has against Shari Redstone for spying on her and for other harm she has suffered. Ms. Holland will now be forced to publicly set out Shari and Sumner’s actions. To Shari Redstone’s chagrin, Mr. Redstone was fully competent and determined to live his life as he chose with Sydney Holland and included her in his will and in other documents that were vetted by his lawyers. Ms. Holland does not believe the claims in this lawsuit are Mr. Redstone’s sentiments, but rather are those of Shari Redstone. It is sad that Ms. Redstone is using her vendetta against Ms. Holland to destroy her father’s reputation and legacy as an entertainment industry visionary.”

Oct. 25, 4:30 p.m. Updated with a statement from Sydney Holland.

 

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