UPPER EAST SIDE — Billionaire Ron Perelman is so hellbent on exacting revenge against his former in-laws that he has burned through his daughter's $68 million inheritance to mount a slew of unsuccessful lawsuits against them, court papers claim.
The targets of the lawsuits — the family of Perelman's second wife — say he has spent at least $20 million on five years of litigation. They have gone to court to find out exactly how much Perelman has splurged and claim he has so far stone-walled them in obtaining an accurate account.
The chrome-dome corporate raider was married to his second wife, tabloid gossip columnist Claudia Cohen, from 1985 to 1994, and had a daughter, Samantha, with her.
After their divorce, Perelman and Cohen remained close friends and lived a few blocks away from one another on the Upper East Side. When she died of cancer at 56 in 2007, he was appointed the executor of her estate, and Samantha, now 23, was named the main beneficiary.
Since 2008, on behalf of Claudia's estate, he has filed at least four lawsuits in New Jersey against Claudia's father, Robert Cohen, and her brother, James Cohen, accusing them of cheating Samantha out of a share of the family's lucrative media business.
Claudia's father, Robert Cohen, started Hudson County News Company, which operates a chain of newspaper and magazine retail stores.
Perelman, 70, accused Robert of going back on a promise to leave Claudia half his fortune. A lawsuit also claimed that between 2003 and 2008, James transferred assets from his ailing dad to himself, buying 95% of Robert's business for $15 million when it was later valued at $800 million.
The cosmetics tycoon said in court papers that he suspected the Cohens were up to no good when James approached him a few weeks after Claudia's death and asked to buy her share of a family estate in Palm Beach for a fraction of its true value.
"This was the first sign to me that James was engaged in misconduct, and it ultimately led me to file claims," Perelman said in a 2011 court document.
The Cohens counter that Perelman's litigation is driven by revenge — not out of a desire to protect Samantha.
The proof, they say, is in the will Claudia filed three years before her death, where she spoke of the importance of her family. Claudia expressed her "everlasting love" to her parents and described James and his wife as "the best brother and sister-in-law anyone could ever have."
The will also instructs Perelman to allow Samantha "liberal visitation time" with her grandparents and uncle.
The Cohens claim Perelman's true motivation for filing the lawsuits is to claw back money he lost in an $80 million divorce settlement with Claudia. The five-times-married Revlon exec has shelled out a whopping $138 million in settlements to four ex-wives, according to New York magazine.
The Cohens also claim that Perelman pursued the lawsuits to saddle them with staggering legal bills, glean confidential information about Hudson County News, and force James to watch his ailing father, debilitated by Parkinson's Disease, be humiliated during a grueling deposition.
So far Perelman hasn't been too successful — he has lost all four lawsuits and has appealed two.
The litigation has come at a hefty cost. Before he died in 2012, Robert Cohen won a $13 million judgment against Claudia's estate in a counter-claim. Perelman's attorneys were also fined $1.9 million for frivolous litigation in one lawsuit.
The estate's mounting expenses prompted James Cohen and his two sons in 2011 to obtain a ruling in Manhattan Surrogate's Court requiring Perelman to provide an accounting of the estate's money. Cohen and his sons said they had the right to the records because they're listed as beneficiaries in Claudia's will if Samantha were to die.
After getting a judge to sign off on the request, they have since claimed that Perelman has bucked the order, refusing to disclose fully the estate's expenses and transactions.
Perelman's alleged obstruction hasn't stopped the Cohens from speculating on the cost of litigation.
In one filing, James said that he and his father had spent $12 million on legal fees battling just one lawsuit. He estimated that, under Perelman's stewardship, the estate had spent at least $20 million on an army of pricey lawyers, but believes the amount is likely much higher.
"Today, with the additional fees that the estate has incurred on unsuccessful appeals, the estate has surely spent in excess of $20 million on the New Jersey proceedings, and aggregate expenses in excess of $30 million are very much in the realm of possibility," the filing says.
A filing by James' sons, Justin and Robert II, said that the $68.8 million estate has paid $30 million in taxes and that Perelman's litigation might have eaten up the remaining money.
"In his efforts to avoid discovery, [Perelman] has revealed that substantial grounds exist to believe that he has committed major improprieties, and that, far from acting as a fiduciary of the estate and its principal beneficiary, he has used the estate as his personal piggy-bank to finance a personal litigation vendetta against his former in-laws," the filing said.
A representative for the Cohens did not respond to a request for comment. However, filings over the past year show that the Cohens have continued to subpoena Perelman for records. The Revlon boss was also expected to be deposed last month by the Cohens' lawyers.
Christine Taylor, a spokeswoman for Ron Perelman, said in a statement that the Cohens' allegations were false.
"The only legal fees paid were to protect the assets of the estate against the claims made by Jimmy Cohen," she said.