Helen Copley foundation continues downward cash spiral

Proceeds of son's asset sales not listed on non-profit disclosure

Bela Lugosi as Dracula
  • Bela Lugosi as Dracula

The mystery of who will end up with millions of dollars in cash from the late David Copley’s estate continues, with the latest annual IRS filing of his mother’s foundation shedding no light. According to the document, dated August 30 of last year, the total net assets of the Helen K. and James S. Copley Foundation were down to $4,265,370 at the end of 2012.

Copley, the troubled scion of a declining newspaper family, died in a one-car crash in La Jolla after suffering a heart attack on November 20, 2012, at the age of 60.

He had previously sold off the remains of the struggling newspaper empire left to him by his mother Helen, who died in August 2004. Copley unloaded the Union-Tribune in 2009 to Tom Gores, an L.A.-based speculator who flipped the property to La Jolla real estate mogul Douglas Manchester in 2011.

Once a proud Copley family jewel that showered millions in charitable gifts on an array of popular San Diego causes at elaborate annual banquets, the foundation was in later years tapped by David Copley to provide funds for such favored out-of-town undertakings as the David C. Copley Center for the Study of Costume Design at UCLA, which got $6 million in 2008.

Chaired by Chuck Patrick, former CEO of the Copley Press, Inc., the foundation posted $1,340,461 in expenses and disbursements at the end of 2012, the disclosure says. Neither Patrick nor president Dean Dwyer, vice president and chief financial officer of the Copley Press, were paid. Contributions during the year included $666,666 to the San Diego Public Library, in partial payment of Copley’s $2 million previous pledge.

The second largest recipient was the Sharp Healthcare Foundation, which got $500,000. Copley, who received a heart transplant at Sharp in 2005, had subsequently pledged $5 million to its non-profit. Other beneficiaries included the San Diego Crew Classic, with $75,000, and the San Diego Opera Association’s Student Night at the Opera, $50,000. Expenses approved for future payment are listed as $3 million for the Copley Family YMCA on Landis Street and another $1 million for Sharp.

Copley’s executors have been selling off the real estate he owned in San Diego and Los Angeles. Last May his Mission Beach house went for $3.85 million and his $33 million yacht Happy Days was disposed of for an undisclosed sum.

A house Copley owned in Hollywood where horror-movie star Bela Lugosi once lived was sold last November for $2.6 million.

Whether any of the money has ended up with the foundation to allow it to continue its local charitable giving is thus far unknown.

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This account describes David making grants from the foundation to his favorite causes and beneficiaries. We can all wonder how the foundation was set up and if it was there to allow David to use it as he saw fit. A couple of the disbursements seemed to be in fulfillment of personal pledges he made, such as to Sharp Healthcare. Now that David's profligacy is ended, perhaps the remaining trustees will attempt to stop the hemorrhage of funds from the foundation, and keep the Copley name alive in local memory. David did his best to dismantle the family holdings in the area. His personal fortune may involve setting up a foundation of his own, but I don't expect that, and doubt that many others do. So sad that he did so much to tear down their proud old name.

I think the foundation will shut down when it runs out of money. David probably made arrangements in his will to set up a new foundation in his own name. I doubt he would want his inherited fortune to go to James and Helen's foundation. Patrick and Dwyer no doubt will run the new foundation and after Copley's estate is settled, begin drawing large salaries from the foundation possibly for the rest of their lives.

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