Prebys's close associates won't surrender to his furious "life partner"

Laurie Anne Victoria hires Gibson Dunn from L.A.

Turner and Prebys at son Eric's 2013 wedding. Turner will inherit $40 million, plus his Point Loma home  and its contents.
  • Turner and Prebys at son Eric's 2013 wedding. Turner will inherit $40 million, plus his Point Loma home and its contents.

Laurie Anne Victoria, the late Conrad Prebys's long-time second-in-command and chief financial officer who is now chief executive of the firm that made him a billionaire, has hired two top Los Angeles attorneys to battle the lawsuit that Prebys's "life partner," Debra Turner, filed in Superior Court May 15 against Victoria and three other persons on the board of the Prebys Foundation.

Scott A. Edelman and Alex Mircheff, partners of Los Angeles-based firm Gibson Dunn, are representing Victoria, who was head of the trust that actually set up the foundation. They haven't decided yet whether to countersue, try to get the suit thrown out of court, or use some other strategy to defeat it.

At last year's services for Prebys, who gave more than $300 million to San Diego nonprofits, Turner and Victoria were very close, planning and dominating the operation, according to Conrad Prebys's only son, Eric Prebys, a PhD and noted physicist. It was after those services that Eric Prebys learned that he had been completely cut out of his father's will, having been disinherited in several downward moves of the amount he was to get, beginning at $20 million. Conrad Prebys had left his family after a divorce, when Eric Prebys was only two years old. When he was 16, Eric Prebys found his father -- then wealthy and no longer plagued by an alcohol problem -- and, he says, they had a good relationship for more than 35 years. Conrad Prebys would visit Eric and his family every year.

Eric believes that Debra Turner applied "undue pressure" to get Conrad to disinherit him.

According to knowledgeable sources, Debra Turner will inherit $40 million from the late Conrad Prebys, plus his Point Loma home, worth an estimated $5 million, and its contents.

Eric Prebys hired attorneys to challenge the disinheritance. San Diego attorney James Lauth, who had been Conrad Prebys's estate planning attorney, feared that Eric had such a good case that he could get a huge chunk of his father's estate, thus severely weakening the foundation. (Lauth has not returned calls for comment.) In a settlement, the son got $9 million plus $6 million that would ultimately be paid to the Internal Revenue Service.

Debra Turner, president of the foundation, hit the roof over the settlement, claiming that Eric Prebys should get nothing. She demanded that the other foundation board members — Victoria, Joseph Gronotte, Gregory Rogers and Anthony Cortes — reverse the vote that permitted the settlement. When they refused, she filed a lawsuit May 15 in Superior Court, charging the defendants with breach of fiduciary duty, self-dealing, and other sins. The foundation will be irrevocably devoted to charitable purposes, and there is no argument over that. Turner charges that Victoria made unauthorized gifts from trusts — a breach of duty to the foundation.

The $15 million payment "was a reasonable settlement," says Edelman. For the foundation, "It was a dangerous claim brought by the sole heir of Conrad Prebys. The settlement was an effort to preserve the the ability of the foundation to be a charitable force in San Diego for years to come." The foundation has not yet been funded, but will certainly get a bundle of money. The foundation is the "remainder beneficiary," which will get the money after all other trusts have been paid and claims settled.

Turner's suit has raised some eyebrows in legal circles. She claims she was "effectively [Prebys's] widow." They lived together more than 16 years but were not married. In any case, common-law marriage is not recognized in California. Conrad Prebys had been married three times before he took up with Turner. "She may have been trying to bolster her standing, her image," says an attorney who prefers not to be quoted. "'Effective widow' is not a legally meaningful statement."

I could not reach Turner.

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Good to know that, even in the late ravages of Alzheimer's disease, Prebys knew enough to never marry Turner. Given her current behavior, I'd gather it wasn't for her lack of trying. But facts are stubborn things, and none of the euphemisms she gives herself will ever supersede the legal status of "sole heir."

At this point, the only legacy she's purchasing with Prebys' money is her own disgrace.

Cassander: To my knowledge, Conrad Prebys did not have Alzheimer's. But his state of mind is a major question in the dispute involving Debra Turner, Eric Prebys, whom his father disinherited, and the group of people whom Conrad Prebys chose to be on the board of the foundation. One of this group, Laurie Anne Victoria, is now CEO of the company that made Conrad Prebys a billionaire. Best, Don Bauder

I am thinking that Turner might be, unintentionally, sabotaging the Trust. If she received wise legal advice and if she adhered to it, then she would drop this legal action against the Trust and Trustees. Turner has everything to lose and nothing to gain by this action.

The Settlement seemed very modest and fair. Talk about shooting yourself in the foot.

If nefarious actions by Turner regarding Eric's inheritance are found out in the course of this litigation, Eric and his attorneys could set aside the settlement and demand a much bigger portion of the Estate meaning less money for the Trust.

As I mentioned in an estate legal affair I was once engaged in, you're dealing with the courts with a subject with few cases as precedence. Most lawsuits settle. So basically any trust disputes profit lawyers, and those lawyers are experts at dragging things out and piling on legal fees. Why? Because death and inheritance is really in a grey area between civil and a rock.

With Turner questioning the qualifications and motives of the foundation members, she opens up an opportunity for Junior to attack the foundation also. If Junior got great council, he could sue and seek to inherit the entire estate. Stranger things have happened. Because greedy people make the wrong choices and it backfires. Befuddled.

Ponzi: Eric Prebys, the son whom Conrad Prebys disinherited, has his $9 million (plus $6 million for the IRS) in the deal made by the foundation. By trying to oust all the other members of the foundation who voted for this settlement, Turner is attempting to overturn the payment to Eric Prebys. Best, Don Bauder

SportsFan0000: The attorneys for Laurie Anne Victoria, now head of the company that made Prebys a billionaire, think the disinherited son's settlement with the foundation might have saved that foundation a lot of money. Turner doesn't see it that way. Best, Don Bauder

SportsFan0000: I agree that this may be a foolish lawsuit by Debra Turner. But as far as I know, she intends to pursue it. Best, Don Bauder

Right-minded adults help blood family if possible.She seems intent on might is right. Woman probably had nothing to start with so is battling.

shirleyberan: I do not know her background. Checking that out is one of the things that is on my list. At this point, she seems to be acting more for power than for greed. Service on the foundation is not compensated. Foundation money can't go to an individual. All the people on the board serve for free. But even if she succeeds and gets the others dumped, will she enhance her power in the San Diego Establishment with this lawsuit? At this point, I have to say no. Best. Don Bauder

Shirlyberan: You can pick your friends but you can't pick your relatives. Blood may be thicker than water but water is better for you.

AlexClarke: True: you can't pick your relatives. Conrad Prebys and his first wife divorced when his son Eric was two years old. Conrad fled South Bend, Indiana, went to San Diego, quit his problem drinking, and began getting rich on real estate. In those 14 years, Conrad Prebys made no attempt to contact his son Eric. It was Eric, at age 16, who took the initiative and did the work to find his father. Best, Don Bauder

As I probably posted earlier, this will generate huge fees for high-powered law firms and will likely settle little. The funding for these attorneys is not clear now, but everyone on both sides of the case will likely manage to have the Trust or foundation pay for the legal representation. And the funds he intended to grant to worthy operations or causes will end up maintaining lavish lifestyles for the partners in the law firms that are involved. Don't be misled, the lawyers always get paid, no matter what the outcome, and they stand first in line for payouts.

Visduh: Isn't that usually the case? The lawyers end up with the money? They will certainly do well in this one, since Debra Turner appears absolutely adamant. Best, Don Bauder

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