In a previous life, before becoming Mrs. Tom Benson — wife of the billionaire owner of the New Orleans Saints and Pelicans — Gayle Benson was an interior designer with a penchant for getting sued.
After recently being named by her husband as the proposed heir of his two professional sports teams, Gayle Benson is now under the microscope of the NBA and NFL. And according to this report from the New Orleans Advocate, it’ll be interesting to see how her past factors into the ownership vetting process of the two leagues.
Her marriage to Tom Benson came in 2004 (becoming his third wife), but before that, Gayle Benson’s name was Gayle Bird — the last name coming from an earlier marriage that ended in divorce in 1986 — and through her business as a licensed interior designer, managed to rack up 18 civil lawsuits in a 13-year stretch between 1987 and 2000, mostly over allegations of having breached contracts or for failing to pay bills in a timely fashion. The majority of the suits, the Advocate notes, were ultimately dismissed, but several ended with her paying out-of-court settlements. Benson’s record also includes an arrest on suspicion of theft, though she later fought back with a federal lawsuit and ultimately was never prosecuted on the charge.
Yet, despite having a few skeletons in her closet, Tom Benson’s longtime attorney Phillip Wittman tells the Advocate he doesn’t see anything problematic to her taking ownership of the two teams. “I know of nothing, frankly, that would be an impediment for Mrs. Benson to be approved by the NFL [or the NBA] as an owner — if it should even come up,” he tells the Advocate.
On another front, Tom Benson’s three children are attempting a legal challenge against his decision making Gayle Benson — who’s not their mother — heir of the two teams.
“In some quarters, a narrative has been put forward that suggests that Tom Benson, after much deliberation, made a considered decision to reverse decades of plans to have [his daughter] Rita succeed him as the designated owner of the Saints and replace Rita with his wife Gayle,” Randy Smith, the attorney representing Benson’s children, tells the Advocate. “Instead, the evidence suggests that Tom Benson, in a weakened mental and physical state, was unduly influenced to suddenly sever all relations with his daughter and grandchildren.”
Read the Advocate's full report here.