It's because, like it or not, the Rita Scare is real.
A lot of us may have begun tuning out the Benson legal turmoil after we were disappointed to learn that our clearly non-functional court system considers Tom Benson mentally competent. But, it turns out there's still a lot up in the air here. The way this reads, in fact, Team Rita seems like it has a distinct upper hand.One of the primary issues is whether Benson's estranged daughter, Renee Benson, and her two children – Rita Benson LeBlanc and Ryan LeBlanc – can gain a stronger grip on the Saints somewhere inside a tangle of ongoing litigation, the source said.The NFL owner is engaged in legal and financial wrangling on a number of fronts with Renee Benson and her children, two of which impact some aspect of ownership in the Saints. The first is an appeal of a June court decision that ruled Tom Benson competent to rule over his estate, something Renee Benson and her lawyers have disputed. The second is a federal lawsuit filed by Benson against trustees who blocked him from removing the stakes his estranged relatives have in the Saints (roughly 60 percent of non-voting stock in the team) and Pelicans (95 percent). Boiled down, Benson is attempting to forcefully remove Renee Benson and her children from ownership in the sports franchises by trading their stock shares with a comparable financial package. Trustees blocked the move and Tom Benson is suing them.
The trust funds were set up as a way to pass down his fortune while saving on taxes. But in January, Benson announced he was instead cutting ties with Renee, Rita and Ryan and leaving the teams to his third wife, Gayle Benson. He stopped talking to Renee, Rita and Ryan and fired them from his various businesses.Benson can't just disinherit Renee and Rita. He has to sort of buy them out of their stake in the Saints and Pelicans. But he is proposing to do that by replacing the most valuable assets in the trust with paper. That might not be something he can actually do because, well... there's probably no combination of promissory notes and company scrip or whatever he can produce that is of "equal value" to the sports franchises.
Now, Benson is relying on a tactic allowed under the trusts to remove ownership interests in the teams from the trust accounts. The rules allow for Benson, as the grantor, to remove assets from the trusts in exchange for assets of equal value.
So there's reason to worry that Renee and Rita could end up with control of the team. And there's reason to bank on them spitefully firing everyone who had been loyal to Tom and Gayle during this process. It's also well known that Sean Payton does not want to work for Rita LeBlanc under any circumstances. Which is why Payton wants to have an exit strategy in place. And this is why you're seeing these rumors week in and week out.
Not everyone thinks it's reason to believe the sky is falling, though. Here's what the Advocate's Nick Underhill had to say on this.
There are still battles to be fought over Benson cutting his relatives out of his life and his businesses. One of those is over the non-controlling shares of teams that were placed in trusts for them that Benson is now trying to take back. But the current succession plan contains several redundant legal protections that allow Benson to dictate who gets the teams upon his passing.What's not clear to me, though, is whether the legal conditions under which the trust operates render Benson's succession plans moot. It looks like the judge decided not to rule on the trustees motion to dismiss Benson's suit over that today.
Benson, himself, wasn't even on hand for that. He was too busy trying to build his argument against eternal damnation which, as this entire succession question might indicate, is certainly pending. Probably gonna cost him more than $20 million at this point, though.