Going public for the first time, a former Paramount employee writes that he took orders from the mogul's girlfriend Sydney Holland to cash huge checks and shuttle money around L.A. over the course of one year.
Sumner Redstone, 92, has skipped recent Viacom and CBS shareholder meetings and is said to be in declining health, prompting investors and media to focus recently on succession issues at the executive chairman's two media companies, as well as the largely unknown influence of girlfriend Sydney Holland, 43, in his life and business.
My name is Tim Jensen, and this is my story of a most unusual job.
In February 2011, Paramount Pictures asked me if I could fill in for a week as a driver for Sumner Redstone, the executive chairman of Viacom and CBS Corp. I'd had experience driving Hollywood talent and had a good reputation, and I accepted the position from the Paramount transportation planner.
Prior to starting the job, I met with Redstone's regular driver to learn the routine. My initial instructions were pretty basic: a tour of the restaurants that Redstone frequented and ordered out from, the locations of his physicians' offices, the Westwood theater location where Redstone was to make a red-carpet appearance at a movie premiere.
Finally, I was given some instructions regarding his daily life and my tasks. The regular driver outlined in minimum detail some of the people in Redstone's world. First, there was his ex-wife Paula. Second, there was a woman who was referred to as his "number-one girl," whose name I am excluding. Lastly, he mentioned the name Sydney, a woman about whom I would later learn a great deal more. However, at that point, I was only made aware that she was someone in Redstone's life.
I also was told by his regular driver that, during my week of employment, I might be required to cash some checks and deliver money to a few people. I was surprised because I had never been asked to perform that task as a studio driver. I knew Redstone was the head of Viacom, so I figured people at its Paramount division knew that an employee was being asked to do this.
Jensen visited the Bank of America in Beverly Hills so often that the tellers knew him.
My week of employment began on a Monday morning after picking up from Paramount a custom Lincoln Town Car that contained a satellite television, along with interior video monitors. When I arrived at the gated Beverly Park Terrace residence, I was informed by a staff member at the house that I would be taking both Redstone and Sydney Holland (picture above right, with Redstone and his companion, Manuela Herzer) to his dentist appointment. However, the staff member first gave me a check with "Beverly Park LLC" in the top corner made out for several thousand dollars that was to be cashed at a Bank of America branch in Beverly Hills and the money brought back to the house. I proceeded to the bank and returned to the house with the cash envelope.
Upon my return, while parking in the front driveway, I noticed an old, red subcompact car that had the driver-side mirror duct-taped in place. The 40ish woman getting out of the vehicle was attractive but also looked a bit weary in her appearance. I figured she was hired help for the house, so I wondered why she would be parking in the main driveway rather than on the side, where I knew the house staff was told to park.
I gave the cash envelope to a staff member, and by then, it was time to take Redstone to the dentist. He was escorted to the car by his main assistant and, to my surprise, the woman from the old, beat-up car. She introduced herself as Sydney. A little stunned, I couldn't understand how this woman who was dressed so inexpensively and was driving such a wreck would be joining us at the appointment.
The next day, I received a phone call from Paramount's transportation department asking if I could meet with one of the vice presidents of the company. At that meeting, I was told that Redstone had sent an email complimenting me. No other driver had ever received this kind of praise from him, I was told, and I was given a copy of the email.
During that week in February, I took Redstone to various dinner engagements and appointments, and I ran some errands for him. I left when his regular driver returned from vacation, not knowing that my working relationship with Redstone — and Holland — was not to end there.
This property near Beverly Hills was bought in 2011 for $1.825 million and sold in 2013 for $2.8 million.
In late April 2011, I again was contacted by Paramount's transportation department, this time to ask if I would take the full-time driver position for Redstone. It would be a seven-day-a-week commitment, which would not be easy. In addition to having a family, I've been working in the entertainment industry for 30 years, as a propmaker; doing practical and mechanical visual effects and stunts; and as a Teamster, able to drive on union film or television sets. But I took the job and welcomed the steady work.
On May 2, 2011, I picked up the same town car at the Paramount lot and drove up to Redstone's home. Since I had filled in just a few months earlier, reintroductions to the house staff were easy. That day, I also was reintroduced to Holland. But things obviously had changed in the few months I was away. This time, she was driving a new Porsche Cayenne, and her wardrobe had been upgraded significantly.
A few days later, I drove Redstone and Holland to dinner. Redstone said he had set up a healthy trust fund for Holland, and he gave her instructions to not withdraw any of it but instead to live on the interest payments.
It was also during my first week back that I drove Redstone and Holland to a home in Los Angeles. We approached the modest two-story house but stayed inside the car. Holland said that this was the home Redstone had purchased for her and that as soon as escrow closed, it was going to be remodeled how she wanted it. A public website shows the purchase price of the Beverly Hills-adjacent property was $1.825 million.
It had become pretty clear during my first few weeks back that Holland had aligned herself with Redstone and was reaping significant financial benefits. I had heard various rumors about Holland from people on staff and learned that she had been known as Sydney Stanger and was the co-founder of "The Inner Circle," a VIP social club that advertised matchmaking services.
Jensen, pictured here, was hired in 2011 by Paramount to drive Redstone, but soon found himself taking orders from Redstone’s girlfriend, Holland.
Within my first year, I witnessed how Holland utilized Redstone's wealth. She asked him to donate money to several charities in her name. Redstone also said he was financing her Rich Hippie Productions, which Holland said would be a full-scale film and production company.
He said he had given her Viacom stock, and he once said he bought her a membership at the Beverly Hills Tennis Club, which he was a member of but hadn't frequented in some time. When her membership was revoked, Holland told me and other staff members that Redstone helped her get into the Riviera Country Club.
These are a few examples of what Redstone said he did for Holland to improve her position in the public eye. They probably aren't dissimilar to what many older, extremely wealthy men do for their younger girlfriends. But there was more, and it made me uncomfortable.
By the end of 2011, Holland appeared to me to have taken charge of Redstone's personal life, and many of us working at the house felt that she had gained significant decision-making power. My days at work would start with text messages or phone calls with instructions — not from Redstone or a staff member but from Holland — as to what my responsibilities for the day would be. I was still driving Redstone to events and dinners in the Paramount car. But now I was spending much more time doing things at Holland's direction that, in my experience, are not the usual tasks of a studio executive driver's job.
Holland would give me a check made out to "cash," usually for several thousand dollars, and, per her orders, I would take the check to the Bank of America, where the teller would put money in an envelope. I was instructed by Holland to make arrangements to give the envelope to one of the women whom I had seen at the house frequently. I was such a regular visitor to the bank branch that the tellers knew me.
Redstone’s Beverly Park estate, where Jensen took orders from Holland.
Holland would tell me how much to pay each particular woman. For some, it was an easy transaction. For others, I couldn't get enough money out of the bank on one visit, so I would need to accumulate enough over a few days and then pay them. I'm talking several thousand dollars going to each woman in a delivery, and it made me nervous to carry that much cash around. Within a day or two after seeing women at the house, I was cashing a check and delivering them money. It was mostly the same women — seven in total. To keep them straight, I maintained a spreadsheet that I still have today. In 2011, I think the total I paid to these women was more than $1 million.
When I accepted the driver position, I knew that it would require a big commitment from me. But taking instructions from Holland, a person who was not identified to me as being affiliated with Paramount or Viacom, and spending such a big chunk of my time shuttling money to various women were not things I had anticipated having to deal with. I made my concerns known to Viacom in New York, particularly about my personal safety. I was extremely uncomfortable transporting such large sums of money without being protected from potential robbery. I even had a conversation with a security executive at Viacom's headquarters about me obtaining a license to carry a concealed weapon. My request was denied because the executive said it was against company policy for employees to carry firearms. I believe Viacom was aware that I was taking instructions from and performing tasks for Holland that I was not comfortable performing. I was told by a Viacom employee that all of us on staff had to deal with it because Redstone backed Holland. I needed to work, so I decided to continue to do the job.
Slowly, I saw many of Redstone's longtime staff members alienated from him, and I was no different. My relationship with Holland soured, and then she became hostile to me. I let my contact at Paramount know how I was being treated. It was clear that my days were numbered as Redstone's driver, and I was told in November 2012 by Paramount that I was being let go. During that meeting, Paramount's human-resources executive asked me to sign a nondisclosure agreement and offered me $36,000 to do so. I refused.
Redstone’s Lawyer Responds:
Patty Glaser, an attorney for Redstone and Holland, tells THR: “Tim Jensen is a disgruntled ex-employee of the Viacom-Paramount film group. He has made claims in the past, and we don’t believe they have any merit. In writing, Mr. Redstone and Ms. Holland told Paramount they wished that he no longer drive them and they wished that he be relocated within the company.” Viacom declined comment.