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Maryland

Peter Angelos built an empire of Orioles baseball, law and Baltimore real estate. Will a family feud break up the kingdom?

It is an empire built piece by piece, but reaching expansively across the Baltimore area and beyond — through real estate that includes a downtown landmark and a renowned horse farm, to an aggressive law firm that won billions of dollars for workers harmed by asbestos and smokers sickened by tobacco, and of course, wrapping in the Orioles, whose glories and struggles define their proud and scrappy hometown.

But now, in the twilight of his life, Peter G. Angelos’ vast portfolio of assets could be broken up amid a family feud over who will control them.

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According to a recently filed lawsuit, his wife wants to sell the team and his older son wants to “dismantle or dissolve” his law firm, the signature holdings that propelled the son of a Highlandtown tavern owner into one the most prominent and powerful figures in the state.

The suit, filed June 9 by his younger son, Louis F. Angelos, 52, details a family feud that allegedly has been brewing since the health of the family patriarch began declining and he could no longer manage his businesses. Peter Angelos’ 93rd birthday is on the Fourth of July.

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Louis Angelos sued in Baltimore County Circuit Court, claiming his brother John P. Angelos, 55, has sought to seize control of their father’s assets, intimidating and confusing their mother, Georgia Kousouris Angelos, into acquiescence. The 80-year-old matriarch issued a statement in response to the suit, however, saying she alone has the authority to manage the family assets and fully supports John.

Whether any asset is sold remains to be seen and, indeed, family holdings often don’t remain intact through the generations for any number of reasons. Disputes such as the one splitting the Angelos family are so familiar, they’ve inspired everything from Shakespeare’s “King Lear” to HBO’s “Succession.”

The Angelos empire has had but one emperor, observers say, making it hard to envision the passing down of the crown.

“With Peter’s personality, being such a dominant leader, the Angelos law firm was just him. He ran the Orioles the same way,” said Aris Melissaratos, a former Maryland secretary of business and economic development who now is vice president for leadership development for St. John Properties.

“He was kind of dominant everywhere, and dominant over his two sons,” he said. “For decisions, it was always, ‘You have to see Mr. Angelos.’”

The Law Offices of Peter Angelos, as the much-advertised firm is called, employed a fluctuating stable of attorneys over the years — but none were made partners, although it’s currently managed by Louis Angelos. And while Peter Angelos organized a group of buyers to purchase the Orioles in 1993, including the late novelist Tom Clancy and tennis-star-turned-broadcaster Pam Shriver, Angelos was the major investor and managing partner.

As his health faltered, he granted power of attorney to his wife “to act in my place in all matters,” according to a document signed Oct. 31, 2017, and which was included in the filing of Louis Angelos’ lawsuit.

Should she not be able to act in that capacity, the document went on to say, he designated his sons “acting jointly or separately” to replace her as his “attorney-in-fact.” Angelos also created a trust for his holdings, and on Aug. 9, 2019, he discontinued his role as its trustee while his wife and two sons took over as co-trustees.

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In October 2020, Georgia Angelos placed her husband’s interest in the Orioles into his trust, according to the lawsuit.

A legal and downtown powerhouse

Peter Angelos last went to his law office, in the gleaming One Charles Center downtown, in February 2018. Angelos bought the building, designed by modernist giant Ludwig Mies van der Rowe, in 1996 for $6 million.

The law firm specializes in personal injury cases, most notably illnesses and deaths by steel and shipyard workers from inhaling asbestos. The firm also handled the state’s litigation against the tobacco industry to recover costs related to caring for smokers.

Attorneys in town say the law firm is smaller than during the height of the asbestos litigation and, according to Louis Angelos’ suit, John Angelos considered it unsustainable and thought it needed to be dissolved or spun off. Louis Angelos refused, the suit said, noting their father considered his firm his “most significant achievement” and his role with the Orioles “strictly secondary.”

From a working-class background — his parents immigrated from Greece, and he went to law school at night — he rose in status and wealth. He served as a City Council member and ran unsuccessfully for mayor, and became a major philanthropic and Democratic political donor. He has given millions to his alma mater, the University of Baltimore Law School, where a building bears the names of his parents, John and Frances Angelos.

Angelos has owned various downtown buildings over the years, and sought to protect the office-leasing market from moving to other parts of town. He sued to halt development plans outside the central business district, such as the westside Superblock project and the State Center revamp.

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Louis Angelos’ lawsuit accuses his brother of transferring what he estimates as more than $90 million of their father’s real estate holdings into an LLC owned by a trust that John Angelos largely controls.

The list includes city and county properties, including 925 Eastern Ave. in Little Italy, which housed Boccaccio Restaurant until shortly after its owner’s death in 2008. Peter Angelos had been a regular, hosting everyone from O’s pitching great Jim Palmer, who said the team owner was trying to woo him as manager, to then-Gov. Martin O’Malley, in a reported attempt to warm a chilly relationship with the Democrat.

Angelos previously bought the legendary Maison Marconi on West Saratoga Street, saying he would relocate the restaurant to one of his Charles Street properties. Instead, he closed it five years later and sold the building in 2019.

Angelos’ business interests tend to overlap. He owned thoroughbred horses before the Orioles, racing them under the name Marathon Farm. In 1998, he bought a 237-acre horse farm in Baltimore County for $2.6 million. He has named horses after then-O’s manager Buck Showalter and right fielder Nick Markakis.

The value of Peter Angelos’ fortune is unclear, although Melissaratos estimates it’s in excess of $2 billion. The Orioles are valued by Forbes at $1.375 billion.

The next generation

For many a family, experts say, the transition from founder to the next generation can be fraught.

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“You’re not just dealing with business issues. You’re dealing with family issues, as well,” said Maurice Offit, a Baltimore-based attorney who specializes in estate planning, but noted he has no independent knowledge of the Angelos family’s situation. “Many times it’s hard.”

And when the crown jewel of the family business is particularly high-profile, with much of the town invested in its every move, the challenges are that much greater, Melissaratos said.

“The O’s and Baltimore are synonymous,” he said.

“Succession planning is always difficult to achieve, especially in a family with such a visible asset like the Orioles,” Melissaratos said.

John A. Pica Jr., a former Democratic state legislator, agreed. Pica, who previously worked for the Angelos law firm and now is a lobbyist, said he hopes the family settles its differences.

“Mr. Angelos built an empire through hard work. He kept the Orioles in Baltimore,” he said. “It’s very sad to see a battle like this going on, but I’m sure it will all work out.”

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In his lawsuit, Louis Angelos said his father brought both sons into the Orioles operations starting around 1995, two years after he and other investors bought the team for $173 million, then the most ever paid for a sports team.

Frank Wren, the Orioles general manager for a single year, 1999, said the brothers were feeling their way in a still-unfamiliar field for them, and it was not always clear what their role was.

“Both of the kids were new to the business, trying to figure out how to lead,” he said. “They were figuring out what was their place, where they really fit in, ‘What will Dad let us do?’ ‘Will the role have meat to it — or is it just a title and Dad’s running everything?’”

Wren said Louis Angelos “had a decent feel for the game” and “was more interested in baseball stuff” than his brother at the time.

Peter Angelos fired Wren at the end of the season, in part because he refused to hold a plane for a West Coast road trip for star Cal Ripken Jr., who was caught in traffic.

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“Peter’s very demanding. I don’t think saying that takes anyone by surprise,” Wren said. “He has a view of what should be done, and how.”

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The lawsuit said the brothers initially worked together collaboratively, but a “rift” developed between John Angelos and his father over such matters as where the team should locate its spring training facility. The acrimony led to John Angelos allegedly walking away from the Orioles for long periods of time, during which Louis Angelos’ role on the team grew, the lawsuit said.

John Angelos returned to the team in 2017 at his father’s request, according to the lawsuit, and began trying to seize control, unilaterally getting rid of those loyal to Peter Angelos and installing his own people. He now holds the title of chairman and CEO of the team.

Louis Angelos said in his suit that his brother worked to consolidate his control over the team and could sell it or move it to Tennessee, where he lives in Nashville. John Angelos has denied he would move the team, and in the lawsuit, he is accused of stalling and thwarting his mother’s desire for a sale.

The turmoil has many fans watching not just what’s happening on the field, where a yearslong rebuilding process seems to be bearing some fruit in exciting young players, but off it as well.

“It’s unfortunate this rift comes as the team is about to turn around,” Melissaratos said.

“It’s got to be resolved peacefully, not by having family laundry aired in public,” he said. “Someone needs to come in and calm things down. I would offer to do it.”


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