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Multimillion-dollar battle over estate of Baltimore bakery and development magnate John Paterakis ends in favor of his children

The widow of John Paterakis, the bakery magnate and Harbor East developer, has withdrawn her claim to a greater share of what she said was his $1 billion fortune, leaving the bulk of it in the hands of the children from his first marriage.

A consent judgment filed Wednesday in Baltimore County Circuit Court ended a messy, four-year legal battle between Roula Paterakis, the widow of the man who turned H&S Bakery from a family business into a conglomerate, and his six grown children, other family members and a business associate.

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Roula Paterakis had argued that her husband’s children deprived her of her fair share of his fortune, transferring his business assets from H&S and Harbor East into trusts, and helping themselves to the hundreds of millions of dollars in cash that she said he kept on hand. She filed a lawsuit in 2017, making public a feud within the family of a patriarch who — for all his wealth and influence as a major political donor — had lived a largely private life.

His widow’s attorney, Arnold M. Weiner, would not say why she decided to drop her claims to more of her husband’s assets.

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“Unfortunately and for personal reasons that I am not authorized to share, Mrs. Paterakis determined that she should settle the matter as she has and withdraw her action,” he said.

The agreement and judgment was “a complete victory,” said Jeffrey E. Nusinov, who represented William J. Paterakis and Venice Paterakis Smith, the siblings who were named by their father as personal representatives of his estate.

“She was not able to get beyond the fact that her allegations were frivolous,” he said of Roula Paterakis.

John Paterakis, bakery magnate and Harbor East developer, and his wife, Roula Paterakis, at an event in 2015.
John Paterakis, bakery magnate and Harbor East developer, and his wife, Roula Paterakis, at an event in 2015. (Karen Jackson/Baltimore Sun)

Nusinov said Roula Paterakis was not left empty-handed: her husband left her $250,000, a retirement account worth more than $650,000 and the home they shared in Baltimore County.

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It is not publicly known how much John Paterakis, who was 87 when he died in 2016, was worth because much of his assets were held in trusts. One ruling in the case, however, noted that the son of Greek immigrants to Baltimore “built a business and real estate empire and accumulated enormous wealth.”

Paterakis took his father’s bakery, located in their East Baltimore rowhouse, and built it into a what its website touts as “America’s largest family-owned variety baker,” with one of its plants making two million buns a day for McDonald’s. He bought a largely industrial swath of land on the east side of the Inner Harbor, close to the H&S Bakery in Fells Point, and developed it into the glitzy Harbor East neighborhood.

Roula Paterakis argued that by law she was entitled to a third of her husband’s estate, and that estate should include assets held in trusts, as well as the “cash hoards” and “play money” that he kept in safes, safe deposit boxes and bank accounts, money that he freely spent on poker games, travel on private jets and gifts.

But, she said in her suit, Paterakis’ children “raided the cash hoards” and cleaned out “play money” bank accounts when he was ill and hospitalized, denying her a fair share after his death. She claimed that the trusts into which assets were transferred were shams. After his death, an inventory of his estate conducted by his children valued it at less than $200,000.

The Paterakis siblings fired back in a suit of their own. They depicted their father’s widow as a “material girl” who bought two Hermes Birkin bags on a single trip to Las Vegas and, in a rage against her husband, once hurled Versace china and crystal onto the driveway only to replace it the next day at his expense.

Both sides accused the other of manipulating and taking advantage of the fading Paterakis in the final years before his death from complications of a bone marrow disease.

Paterakis and his second wife had lived together since 2001, and married in 2015. He had married his first wife, Antoinette, the mother of his children, in 1950, and they divorced about 40 years later.

Wednesday’s consent judgment dispensed with Roula Paterakis’ claims:

  • The $570,000 that the siblings retrieved from one of their father’s safe deposit boxes in 2013 are considered gifts, and he had no additional cash in them at the time of his death.
  • There was no evidence offered of “play money” bank accounts, the judgment said, and Roula Paterakis dropped that allegation.
  • The transfer of assets into trusts was not a “sham,” as she argued, and they are not part of his probate estate.
  • A final count, involving what Roula Paterakis said was her husband’s promise to leave her $20 million, was dismissed.

Roula Paterakis and the Paterakis siblings did not respond to requests made through their attorneys for comment.

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