She owned a 42-room Fifth Avenue apartment, palatial estates in Connecticut and California, fabled jewels, Impressionist art, and a priceless collection of antique dolls.
But some months, Huguette Clark would simply run out of cash.
“We are rapidly approaching the point where there is a serious cash shortfall to meet . . . your regular living expenses,” warned a 2003 letter from the reclusive copper heiress’s money manager.
It’s unclear how much Clark understood of her financial situation. She spent the last two decades of her life in Manhattan hospitals, watching cartoons and playing with her dolls, before her death in May 2011 at age 104.
Despite the shortfalls, her advisers allowed the situation to continue, charging Clark hefty legal and accounting fees over the years and generating tens of millions in unpaid taxes and fees, the New York public administrator said in an ongoing Surrogate’s Court battle in which Clark’s surviving relatives accuse the heiress’s handlers of fraud.
The unchecked gift-giving threatened to deplete Clark’s assets. About a decade before her death, accountant Irving Kamsler began urging Clark to sell assets to pay debts and medical bills — all while allegedly underreporting and underpaying Clark’s tax liabilities — according to documents obtained by The Post.
In June 2004, Kamsler noted, “Telephone call from JP Morgan, Mrs. Clark overdrawn 49K. Dictated letter to transfer 100K.” A few months later, there was a $27,000 overdraft.
Clark lavished millions on her employees, especially private nurse Hadassah Peri, who was deposed last week in the complicated court battle concerning Clark’s $400 million estate.
In letters that the public administrator ripped as “woefully inadequate,” Kamsler points out that Clark’s largesse carried a high price, including huge tax liabilities on a $5 million gift to the Philippines-born nurse in 2006.
The secretive Clark was tight-fisted until 1990, when she left her Upper East Side apartment for a hospital room. In that first year she gave out $375,000 — a figure that would grow exponentially.
“Despite the fact that Mrs. Clark was of extremely advanced age, was unwilling or mentally incapable of living outside of a hospital and spent most of her waking time . . . playing with or talking about dolls, watching cartoons on a television,” Kamsler and attorney Wallace Bock did nothing to check her mental capacity, according to court documents.
Peri received five homes and millions in cash while Clark was alive. The nurse could inherit $33.6 million and Clark’s doll collection.
Clark’s distant relatives are contesting the will, saying Clark was isolated, feeble and easily influenced by those who worked for her.
Investigators from the Manhattan District Attorney’s and the state Attorney General’s offices are probing Kamsler’s and Bock’s handling of Clark’s affairs.
Reclusive copper heiress was cash poor, say relatives in court fight over will
$400M estate — but never any cash on hand
Isabel Vincent/Kathianne Boniello
August 19, 2012
The New York Post