The battle over Conrad Prebys's estate is getting more bitter this week as the trustee and boardmembers of the Conrad Prebys Foundation asked a Superior Court judge to toss out a suit by Debra Turner, Prebys's live-in lover for 16 years, who is seeking to oust the foundation board.
Prebys was a local billionaire who gave more than $300 million to San Diego charities. He died last year at 82, and a firestorm has erupted over his disinheriting of his son, Eric, two years before his death. Eric Prebys is a distinguished PhD physicist who never knew his father until age 16, when he located him, and says he had a good relationship with him for 35 years. He says Turner used "undue influence" to get the senior Prebys, allegedly losing mental capacity due to cancer, to disinherit his son.
Laurie Anne Victoria was the senior Prebys's right-hand aide for many years, handling financial affairs of his company, which Conrad Prebys turned over to her to manage before he died. He also named Victoria trustee of the Conrad Prebys Foundation. After Eric Prebys complained legally about the disinheritance, Victoria, following legal advice, suggested a settlement. After board discussion, Eric Prebys was awarded $9 million plus $6 million to cover taxes. (By contrast, Turner got $40 million, an upscale home, cars and art worth more than $14 million, and $30 million to cover taxes.) The senior Prebys had been married three times before living with Turner.
Turner filed, and then amended, a complaint to remove Victoria and other boardmembers from the trust. This week, Victoria and the board filed a biting answer as they requested that Turner's suit be dismissed. Turner had "manufactured claims of conflict of interest" against boardmembers, says the filing. Turner has no standing to file suit against the board on behalf of the foundation, argues the suit. Turner had "undue influence over Conrad, including limiting who had access to him and apparently accessing his privileged communications," according to the suit.
Victoria and the boardmembers, through the law firm of Gibson Dunn & Crutcher, point out that Eric Prebys's $9 million is less than 1 percent of the estate and less than one-fourth of the $40 million that the senior Prebys had intended to leave his son before lowering the amount to zero in stages.
In an interview, Turner says that the foundation board is "ignoring [the senior Prebys's] wishes." The sum of $15 million ($9 million + $6 million for taxes) could build several homeless shelters, she says. Conrad Prebys intended that the foundation be only for charitable purposes. The senior Prebys "was specific and loud" about his desire to disinherit his son. "He told many, many people." As to charges that she apparently tapped into his privileged communications, "Conrad had documents at home. Conrad had asked me to take care of them. I maintained our filing system."
The board said it granted money to Eric Prebys because he could have filed suit and wound up with a much larger settlement. That judgment was completely justifiable, says this week's filing. But "the basic thing is [the board's action] is changing a man's will with no proof," rejoins Turner. Further, local doctors would say that the senior Prebys was not failing mentally when he disinherited his son, she avers.