Biz Exclusive: Tom Benson, heirs get more time to settle suit over New Orleans Saints, Pelicans

NEW ORLEANS—A federal judge has given New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson and three of his heirs, who have battled with him over ownership of assets that include his two sports teams, more time to work out details of a settlement that is likely worth more than $1 billion.

 Attorneys for Benson and the stewards of his heirs' trusts filed a request on Tuesday seeking a 30-day extension of time to finalize details of the agreement, which they initially announced on June 17, days before a trial of the case was slated to begin.

 At stake in the case are non-controlling interests in the Saints and Benson's National Basketball Association team, the New Orleans Pelicans.  Trusts that Benson set up during the past seven years for his daughter, Renee Benson, and her two children, Rita and Ryan LeBlanc, hold substantial amounts of nonvoting shares in the teams, along with considerable real estate and other business interests.

 The joint request stated that while the parties have exchanged drafts of the papers called for in their memorandum of understanding, "they have not yet agreed on final, execution-ready versions" of the documents.

 U.S. District Judge Jane Triche Milazzo had set July 20 as the deadline for the parties to report to the court regarding the status of the settlement.

 On Wednesday she agreed to delay the deadline until Aug. 19.

 Tom Benson, who attempted to remove all sports team and other interests from the trusts following the late 2014 family blow-up that left  him estranged from the three heirs, filed suit in January 2015 after the trustees blocked his move.

 Benson aimed to remove the assets from his heirs' trusts in exchange for promissory notes. The lawsuit came to focus on arriving at fair valuations of the assets in order to establish appropriate exchange values.

 Court documents the parties filed a few days before announcing a tentative agreement show that valuation experts hired by both sides pegged the market value of the Saints between $1.23 billion and $1.65 billion.

 An expert for the trustees put the value of the Pelicans at $588 million. 

 Also at stake in the case is the 26-story Benson Tower office building and adjacent Champions Square entertainment plaza next to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. An appraisal contained in the court filings puts the value of the property above $90 million.

 In addition, contested assets include Benson's television station, WVUE-TV, which experts value above $50 million, and his auto dealerships and other property in San Antonio and New Orleans.



Kathy Finn is a New Orleans journalist and author of the biography, "Tom Benson: A Billionaire's Journey" (Pelican Publishing Co.), due for release in October.



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