The son of a Texas billionaire is waging a messy legal battle against his late dad’s alleged “mistress,” accusing the Los Angeles socialite of extortion in hopes of avoiding paying her the millions she claims she’s owed by his father’s estate.
Bradford Phillips, son of Dallas real-estate developer Gene E. Phillips, filed a pair of lawsuits against Marsana de Monserat in California and Texas early this year. The suits came after De Monserat demanded $2.6 million in refinancing proceeds from one Florida rental property she owned but had allowed the late Phillips to manage, along with $1.7 million from a promissory note she said was given to her.
In January, Phillips filed a suit in Los Angeles Superior Court accusing the jet-setting entrepreneur of extortion, negligent infliction of emotional distress, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. This after Monserat’s lawyer sent the younger Phillips a letter indicating the attorney would contact the IRS and federal housing agencies over the missing $2.6 million.
As reported by local news outlet, MyNewsLA.com, Santa Monica Judge Mark Epstein made a tentative ruling against Phillips on Monday, saying he would likely dismiss his lawsuit because the letter from De Monserat’s attorney was protected under the state’s anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) statute. Epstein did not, however, indicate when he’d issue his final ruling.
For her part, De Monserat, in a recent court filing, said Phillip’s complaint against her is an “attempt to abuse the legal system, with the hopes of scaring [her] into walking away from her business interests with” his late father.
Neither Bradford Phillips, De Monserat, nor their attorneys immediately responded to requests for comment on Tuesday.
Phillips’ original complaint called De Monserat “one of several long-term mistresses” of his late dad, who he alleges “made loans to, provided investment opportunities to, and otherwise provided cash to De Monserat” due to their “personal relationship.” (Phillips’ first amended complaint, it is worth noting, dropped the term “mistress” when referring to De Monserat.)
“While Mr. Phillips was very successful, he was also a controversial figure,” the original filing says of the plaintiff’s father, Gene. The document adds that Bradford Phillips, the CEO of a life insurance company, “has had to overcome his father’s reputation with the companies’ regulators and others.”
Indeed, the Wall Street Journal once called Gene, who died in August 2019, “one of the most controversial figures in publicly traded real estate,” in part because of a shareholder lawsuit that alleged he “abused his position to milk the company's assets for his private use.” In 2002, Phillips and an associate were acquitted on racketeering, wire fraud and other charges. Federal prosecutors had claimed they were part of an alleged scheme that involved kickbacks to labor officials and mobsters.
In an amended complaint, the younger Phillips says he became the executor of his father’s estate and assumed control of his assets but “had no dealings, business or otherwise, with De Monserat.” The lawsuit continues: “As De Monserat’s only link to Gene Phillips’ business stemmed from her role as a social acquaintance, [Bradford] cut off the money flow to De Monserat in August of 2019.”
Then, early last year, De Monserat and Phillips met to “discuss her dealings with the Estate and its assets,” but didn’t walk away with any agreement, according to Phillips’ suit. That February, De Monserat’s attorney, John Polzer, contacted Phillips in a letter and threatened the heir with legal action if he didn’t pay her.
In the missive, Polzer accused Phillips of “fraudulent activity”—including misappropriating the $2.6-million loan which De Monserat alleges was connected to a Department of Housing and Urban Development project—and warned he’d alert the Internal Revenue Service, HUD, and the Federal Housing Association. Phillips has not been charged with any crime in connection with the episode.
A copy of Polzer’s letter, attached to court filings, indicates that the attorney noted what might happen if Phillips did not respond.
“We will be forced to pursue other remedies available to us, including but not limited to filing suit against you individually in connection with, among other things, your misappropriation of the $2.6MM, filing suit against the Decedent’s estate for fraudulent inducement involving various signatures he procured from our client, as well as seeking more information” from the government agencies.
In other words, potentially getting the feds involved.
Polzer’s letter also alleged the late Gene Phillips appeared to run a “purposefully complex web of entities and oversaw the execution of many related-party transactions, to benefit himself or his friends.”
“Our client would like to extricate herself from this web,” Polzer wrote.
In a declaration attached to De Monserat’s motion to strike the lawsuit, the socialite said she first met Gene Phillips in the mid-1990s. “We subsequently became close personally [sic] friends and began working together on a series of real estate ventures, beginning with the purchase of an apartment complex in Los Angeles in the late 1990s,” De Monserat stated.
De Monserat added that “Gene Phillips maintained complete control over the management and operations of the various properties that I owned and those in which I invested pursuant to Gene Phillip’s advice and direction.”
She stated that in October 2015, she purchased a large apartment complex in Florida and “allowed Gene Phillips to control the management and all dealings in regard to this property, just as I had done with our prior real estate investments.”
Two years later, De Monserat claims, Gene suggested she buy a property in Texas by refinancing the Florida complex. Then, in May 2019, De Monserat’s company, FL Westwood, obtained a loan that was insured by HUD to use as a down payment in the Lone Star State.
“Although FL Westwood was the owner and borrower and I believe that I signed all loan documents on behalf of FL Westwood, this HUD refinance transaction was at all times orchestrated and directed by Mr. Phillips and those who worked for him or were associated with him,” De Monserat added in the declaration. “The refinance closed in May of 2019, several months prior to Gene Phillips passing.”
“Neither FL Westwood nor I received a penny of FL Westwood’s loan proceeds,” De Monserat continued. “They were wired to my now fired management company … who then transferred all of the refinance proceeds at the direction of Gene Phillips to an account controlled by” one of Gene Phillips’ business associates.
De Monserat says that after Gene died, Bradford Phillips directed his father’s companies to freeze her out of real estate ventures she had shared with the tycoon.
“After Mr. Phillips’ death, in about January 2020, I requested Plaintiff, as the executor of Gene Phillips’ estate, to provide me an accounting of all of the properties that I owned and the investments that I had with his father,” De Monserat stated. “I received little to no information from Plaintiff.”
In a motion to strike the lawsuit, De Monserat also took aim at Bradford Phillips’ original complaint, in which he described Gene as leading “a controversial life” while amassing his $3.5 billion fortune. Her pleading said that Bradford Phillips seemed to disapprove “of the manner in which his father amassed his fortune, but now wants to reap the rewards of his wealth as the executor of his estate by taking from those with whom his father entrusted and readily engaged in business.”
She also accused Bradford Phillips and his attorney of trying to “demean” her by referring to her as “one of Mr. Phillips’ long-term mistresses, with nothing to offer from a business perspective…”
In his complaint, Bradford Phillips called De Monserat’s allegations “unfounded” and said the specter of “investigations by various governmental entities would cause a significant disruption” to his business.
The lawsuit adds that Phillips “was put in fear that criminal allegations would be made against him, his family, and the Estate” and that this “fear caused him significant emotional distress and has caused him damages as a proximate result.”
Even as their legal imbroglio plays out in California, the case Phillips filed against De Monserat in Dallas County’s probate court is pending. That legal filing suggests an “alleged” $1.7-million promissory note signed from Gene Phillips benefiting De Monserat in January 2014 is no longer valid because a statute of limitations for repayment has passed.