WEATHER »

Who’s Watching Huguette’s Millions?

What Is the Will of Clark Estate Heiress?


Thursday, August 26, 2010

THEYRE NOT TALKING: The heiress owner of Santa Barbara’s majestic Clark Estate is a frail 104-year-old who’s lived in a hospital for two decades and whose sole contact with the outside world apparently is with her felon accountant and his attorney associate.

Based on the history of the two men, Santa Barbarans who had assumed that Huguette Clark would leave the $100-million-plus hilltop estate to a nonprofit are now wondering about its fate.

Barney Brantingham

Does she even have a will? Is she aware of what goes on with her estimated half-billion-dollar assets? Did she approve of the secret sale of her beloved $6-million “The Virgin” Stradivarius and her $23.5-million Renoir, asks msnbc.com investigative reporter Bill Dedman in a new report. And did she really give a friend $10 million?

Her attorney and accountant aren’t saying. She has no children and only distant relatives, who are kept away, according to Dedman.

Her assets, he said, are in the hands of a 78-year-old attorney, Wally Bock, who has only seen her twice, and her longtime accountant, Irving H. Kamsler, 63, a registered sex offender, convicted of using the Internet to send porn to lure several teen girls and attempting to meet them. (They turned out to be cops.)

What we know of these two raises questions. Take the case of Clark’s prior attorney, the late Donald L. Wallace (who spoke to her only through her door). After six revisions to his will, possibly while Wallace was suffering from severe dementia, Bock and Kamsler ended up with $100,000 each from his estate, his Mercedes, and his upscale New York apartment, according to Dedman. They also collected $368,000 for handling his $4-million estate.

It’s perhaps surprising to learn that Kamsler, as a professional in charge of Clark’s millions, has had problems handling his own money. In 2003, the IRS slapped him with a tax lien for $18,853, which he paid three months later, Dedman said.

And if Kamsler was supposed to be looking after Clark’s tax matters, he was apparently looking the wrong way. The IRS hit her with tax liens in 2006, 2007, and 2008. Each was eventually paid off.

Meanwhile, Clark’s three unoccupied properties sit idle. She has not visited since the 1950s. Just as mysterious as her reclusive life is what provisions she has made, if any, for the Clark Estate (overlooking Cabrillo Boulevard, the Andrée Clark Bird Refuge, and the Pacific Ocean).

Also kept ready and waiting for her visit is her $100-million 42-room Manhattan apartment, jammed with priceless paintings and said to be the largest on Fifth Avenue, overlooking Central Park, and a $24-million country house in Connecticut, Le Beau Château, which she bought in 1952 but never lived in, and which is on the market.

The situation cries out for some sort of intervention to ensure that her assets are in good hands and have been handled properly. But so far, no one has undertaken that task.

Whenever I drive past the Clark Estate, I wonder what steps she may have taken to protect it from becoming Clark Condos or something of the sort. Caretakers meticulously groom and keep up the 23-acre property and its 21,666-square-foot mansion, Bellosguardo (“beautiful view”).

It’s unverified, but Ty Warner reportedly offered her $100 million for the estate and was turned down. Does that mean she has other plans for it? As a longtime art collector, would she leave it to the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, where her mother donated items, or perhaps the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, with an iron-clad stipulation that it never be sold?

Perhaps the only persons who know, aside from Clark, are Bock and Kamsler. And not only are they not saying, but Bock threatened to go to court to block Dedman’s story. Bock claims to talk to her regularly via phone.

Huguette’s millions came from her Montana copper king father, William A. Clark, who bought his way into a U.S. Senate seat. He lived in New York, but took a shine to the Santa Barbara hill, buying it in 1923 for $300,000. The bird sanctuary that the property overlooks is named for Huguette’s sister, Andrée, who died of meningitis at 16.

Huguette grew up in Senator Clark’s 121-room Fifth Avenue mansion, with its four velvet-lined art galleries, 225 paintings, a statue by Rodin, Greek and Egyptian antiquities, Gothic tapestries, Persian carpets, a circular marble hall, and antique bronzes representing Ulysses and Prometheus.

After Clark’s 1925 death, his wife, Anna, moved to the present 907 Fifth Avenue apartment and had the mansion demolished. Anna E. Clark died in 1963, and is interred in the Clark Mausoleum in Brooklyn. Paris-born Huguette inherited millions.

Dedman raises troubling questions: “Why are relatives being kept away — on her orders or her attorney’s? Does she know what has been sold? Does she know that the IRS was after her for unpaid income taxes? Does she know that her accountant has a felony conviction? Does she know that her accountant and her attorney ended up owning an apartment signed over to them by an elderly client?”

Meanwhile, Clark busies herself with dolls and is said to be in relatively good health, just preferring not to socialize.

UPDATE: The New York district attorney’s elder abuse unit has launched an investigation into the financial affairs of Huguette Clark. The same unit investigated the Brooke Astor case.

This story has been amended since its original posting to correct the date of Anna Clarke’s death.

Related Links

Barney Brantingham can be reached at barney@independent.com or 805-965-5205. He writes online columns throughout the week and a print column on Thursdays.