The complaint filled at the Dallas, Texas, federal court on behalf of Arnold Leon Schroeder, Jr., the son of socialite Wendy Reves, states:
“This case involves an intricate pattern of conspiracy and fraud to wrongfully steer hundreds of millions of dollars in assets away from the Estate of WynNelle “Wendy” Russell Reves during Wendy’s life and after her death, contrary to the laws of Switzerland and France, and at the expense of Plaintiff, Wendy’s only son and sole heir.
“Each of the named Defendants participated knowingly and actively in this scheme, as set forth in further detail below, and Plaintiff brings this action to recover the wrongfully diverted assets.”
The lawsuit singles out several prominent individuals in Texas, and the Dallas Museum of Art, as conspiring to circumvent the laws of France, a country where Emery and Wendy Reves resided for decades.
Under French “compulsory heirship” rules, the decedent children are automatically entitled to 50% of the parent’s estate. The lawsuit asserts that the named members of the Board of Directors of the Dallas Museum of Art found a way around France’s reserved heirship rule and facilitated the transfer of the Reves Collection, currently valued at approximately $400 million.
The lawsuit than singles out Dr. Kern Wildenthal, the former president of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, and Edward Copley, a prominent Dallas attorney, as instrumental in the “unlawful diversion of Wendy’s assets.”
The complaint states: “Despite Wendy’s increasingly diminishing capacity, Wildenthal and Copley continually attempted to persuade Wendy to transfer her assets to their control and, then, they would funnel those assets to their personal causes in Texas. Over the next several years, Wildenthal sought to win over Wendy’s affection and confidence, successfully getting her give several million dollars to his fund-raising causes.”
Schroeder’s lawsuit claims that in approximately 1998, Wildental began to pressure Wendy to sign a will. During one of her last visits to Dallas before her health precluded travel, Wildenthal introduced her to Copley, a Dallas attorney.
“After an afternoon of plying Wendy (an alcoholic) with abundant champagne and other drinks, Wildenthal abruptly confronted Wendy and presented a Will that had been drafted by, or at, Copley’s direction.
“This Will appointed Wildenthal as sole Executor of Wendy’s Estate and purported to direct the majority of her Estate devolve to a foundation, the Wendy and Emery Reves Charitable Foundation, that would not be created until Wendy died, and it would be totally controlled by Wildenthal and Copley. Wendy signed the Will,” states the complaint.
The rest of the 19-page court document lists the operative facts of the case, why French law applies, how it was circumvented by the defendants, and the unlawful diversion of Wendy’s assets.
The Dallas Museum of Art issued a statement: “The current lawsuit…is clearly without merit. Mrs. Reves entrusted the Reves Collection to the Dallas Museum of Art nearly 30 years ago, and the courts should ensure that Mrs. Reves’s generous wishes of public benefit, rather than Mr. Schroeder’s desires for private gain, are respected.”
Curiously, there is no mention in the lawsuit filled by Schroeder that Wendy Reves in her original 1989 handwritten will, composed in Glion, Switzerland, directed that 40 percent of her estate, estimated to be worth up to $50 million, should benefit the Reves Center for International Studies at the College of William & Mary.
In 1988, during her last stay in Williamsburg, she sent a letter to Harry Parker III, chairman, of the Reves Foundation, reinforcing the stipulation in her will: “To reaffirm my wishes pertaining to the Reves Center… that 40% of the income of the original, compiled, invested capital should be given to the center.”
Three weeks later, Wendy Reves signed a new will in Dallas, designating Wildenthal “an independent executor of the Wendy and Emery Reves Charitable Foundation.”
Frank Shatz lives in Williamsburg, Va. and Lake Placid. His column was reprinted with permission from The Virginia Gazette.