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Culverhouse family feud over charity donations settled, with deathbed wishes restored

TAMPA — The four-year battle to restore the deathbed wishes of former Tampa Bay Buccaneers owner Hugh Culverhouse Sr. ended Monday with a settlement requiring the distribution of millions of dollars from his family foundation to local nonprofits and medical institutions.

The settlement also requires Culverhouse's widow, Joy McCann Culverhouse, to contribute $100,000 of her own money to the foundation, and bars Mrs. Culverhouse's former husband and current live-in companion, Dr. Robert M. Daugherty, from ever serving on the foundation's board.

Daugherty, 75, the former dean of the University of South Florida Medical School, moved in with Mrs. Culverhouse, 89, seven years ago, and the bylaws of the foundation were quickly changed to allow cash gifts to beneficiaries with close ties to Daugherty.

After the St. Petersburg Times detailed the shifting bequests in a 2005 story entitled "Charity in Conflict," the Florida Attorney General's Office began an investigation, and several spurned beneficiaries and Mrs. Culverhouse's estranged son, Hugh Culverhouse Jr., filed challenges to the foundation's new wave of gift-giving.

The settlement approved Monday by Circuit Judge Claudia Isom after a 15-minute hearing guarantees bequests of $383,000 to 36 local charities in the next few days and assures continued annual gifts to the same nonprofits as long as the foundation exists.

"It's been a long time coming, but I'd say to a certain degree, Humpty Dumpty has been put back together again," said Hugh Culverhouse Jr., a former federal prosecutor and Securities and Exchange Commission attorney who now oversees development of the 5,500-acre Palmer Ranch in Sarasota.

"I don't know if justice has been done, but at least the money misspent by Bob Daugherty and his friends will be put back and directed to the charities which are the rightful beneficiaries," he said.

The Sarasota Family YMCA, an ally of Culverhouse Jr. that received a $4.7 million land donation from him three years ago and helped lead the challenge to the foundation's gift-giving, will receive an immediate bequest of $41,000, according to the settlement.

Gifts of $31,000 will go to the University of Florida Foundation, St. Joseph's Hospital, the Sarasota Opera, the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center, the Boys and Girls Clubs of Sarasota, the Asolo Theater and Girls Inc. of Sarasota. Most of the other charities will receive $1,000, as well as additional future annual gifts.

Daugherty answered a Times reporter's phone call Monday at the Monte Carlo condo he now shares in Tampa with Mrs. Culverhouse. He said he didn't know enough about the settlement to comment, and he said Mrs. Culverhouse would not come to the phone.

"She said she doesn't want to talk to you,'' Daugherty said.

Thirteen years ago, in a sensational probate case involving a $381 million estate, Mrs. Culverhouse had plenty to say.

Culverhouse Sr., a tax lawyer, had amassed the fortune with investments in citrus, banks, utilities and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Dying of lung cancer in 1994, the Bucs boss directed three trustees to oversee a family foundation that would make donations to his favorite 36 charities.

But he left Joy, his wife of 52 years, out of the decisionmaking. She went to probate court, claiming her husband had tricked her into signing away her rights in order to dump her and marry a younger mistress. After weeks of steamy testimony, Mrs. Culverhouse swept aside the three trustees and won $34 million, as well as the right to oversee donations from the family foundation.

In the next few years, Mrs. Culverhouse gave millions to her late husband's favorite charities. Then she met and married Daugherty, and things changed. Within weeks of the wedding in 2001, the foundation was restructured and renamed the Joy McCann Foundation. Daugherty was added to the board.

The vast majority of bequests stopped going to the 36 charities Culverhouse Sr. had named on his deathbed. The money now went instead to those with connections to Mrs. Culverhouse's new husband:

• A gift of $300,000 went to a University of Chicago cancer program run by Daugherty's son.

• A donation of $1,025,000 went to the University of Kansas, where Daugherty attended college and medical school.

• After a brief luncheon with Nevada lawyer Ralph Denton, a longtime friend and former associate of Daugherty, Mrs. Culverhouse okayed a $500,000 gift in Denton's name to the law school at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas.

Foundation lawyers said Mrs. Culverhouse was within her rights to name new beneficiaries because bylaws had been amended. But no judge ever ratified the foundation's changes, and the Florida Attorney General's Office said the funds in the foundation belonged not to Mrs. Culverhouse but to the public.

The revolt against the foundation's overhaul continued even as Mrs. Culverhouse divorced Daugherty in 2006. Daugherty moved back in with her a short time later, and Culverhouse Jr. contends that the ex-husband still wields influence over his aging mother.

While Monday's settlement ends the debate over future donations from the family foundation, Culverhouse Jr. has not withdrawn another probate complaint about control of the foundation.

"When I look, I still see undue influence over my mother,'' Culverhouse Jr. said. "If I see the creeping hand of Bob Daugherty again, I'll be back in court so fast it'll make people's wigs spin."

Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Jeff Testerman can be reached at (813 226-3422 or testerman@sptimes.com.

Culverhouse family feud over charity donations settled, with deathbed wishes restored 06/15/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 17, 2009 5:02pm]
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