Calling the second wife of John Paterakis a “material girl,” two of his children from his first marriage filed suit against her in Baltimore County Circuit Court on Thursday alleging she took advantage of the ailing bakery magnate and developer to enrich herself.
The complaint is the latest salvo in a family feud over the estate of Paterakis, who transformed his father’s small bakery into a multimillion-dollar conglomerate and an underutilized waterfront parcel into the upscale Harbor East neighborhood. He was 87 when he died on Oct. 16, 2016, from complications of a bone marrow disease.
The complaint filed Thursday against Roula Paterakis, who married the businessman about a year before his death although they had lived together since 2001, seeks to lift the “cloud” she created by her own suit over his estate. In that action, the widow alleged that her husband’s children concealed millions of dollars of what she said is a $1 billion fortune to deny her a “rightful share” of it.
The filing on Thursday, by siblings William J. Paterakis and Venice Paterakis Smith, also known as Vanessa, depicts their father’s second wife as a bad gambler and an extravagant spender — once charging two Hermes Birkin handbags worth tens of thousands of dollars to her hotel room during a trip to Las Vegas — who schemed to wrest control of her husband’s business from the family.
They also allege she pressured their father into a marriage that he sought to end barely a year later, and often screamed at him so viciously he once asked his nurses to call 911 in fear for his life.
“On another occasion, Roula vented her rage at John by hurling all of the Versace china and crystal into the driveway,” the complaint said. “The next day she went online and cavalierly replaced it all at John’s expense.”
Roula Paterakis’ attorney, Arnold M. Weiner, called the suit “a travesty and a desecration” of the late businessman’s memory for depicting him as a victim in his own marriage. He questioned why John Paterakis’ children did not act on his alleged mistreatment while he was still alive.
“Their expressed concerns about John’s welfare manifest themselves only after he is dead and when they are fighting over his assets,” Weiner said.
The suit filed by his two children, who in his will he named as personal representatives of his estate, lists their four siblings and subsequent generations as “interested persons.”
The filing counters allegations Roula Paterakis made in her own suit, filed Nov. 13 in Baltimore City Circuit Court. She alleged that her husband’s children had transferred assets worth millions of dollars into “sham” trusts to keep it out of his estate. She has filed a claim to one-third of that estate as allowed by statute. But William Paterakis and Venice Smith say in their newly filed complaint that their father’s estate planning was lawful, and took place before he married his second wife.
While John Paterakis, for all his business and civic prominence in Baltimore, lived a largely private life, the suits filed by his widow and now his children since his death expose much of what they claim was happening behind the scenes.
The dueling lawsuits expose a rift between the businessman’s descendants and his second wife. Both depict screaming, animosity-fueled fights and both make claims that the other side took advantage of the family patriarch when he was in a weakened state toward the end of his life.
The siblings’ suit portrays the widow as a twice-divorced woman who “latched” onto their wealthy father. As John Paterakis’ health began failing, the suit charges, she became concerned not with his well-being but with ensuring that she got as much of his fortune as possible.
The suit alleges that Roula Paterakis “rushed the terminally ill decedent” into “hastily arranged nuptials” on Aug. 2, 2015, not even inviting his children.
“At the hurried ceremony,” according to the suit, “John Paterakis looked extremely sad.”
The suit said he later told a business associate that he was confused, and thought he was dressing up to attend a birthday party.
The suit alleges that the following summer, he discussed divorcing her with an attorney, but the attorney concluded that John Paterakis was too weak to go through such a battle.
The suit describes the magnate as dependent on round-the-clock nursing care after 2013. By 2015, the suit said, he was frail and kept alive “with drugs flown in from outside the country.”
In the final month of her husband’s life, Roula Paterakis sought to increase her inheritance, the suit alleges. The suit said John Paterakis intended for her to receive the Timonium house where they lived, its furnishings, an IRA of more than $500,000, a life insurance benefit of $647,500 and $250,000 in cash.
During his last days, she asked for $5 million, but he died before his estate plans could be altered, the suit said. Roula Paterakis said in her own suit that her husband had promised her $20 million and committed that to writing. But the siblings’ suit casts doubt on that document, saying it is not signed or witnessed.
In recent months, the family dispute has played out in multiple filings across various courthouses. Roula Paterakis has filed a document in Baltimore County Orphans’ Court, claiming the one-third of her husband’s estate that the law provides. But William Paterakis and Venice Smith have valued their father’s estate at just over $155,000.
Other assets associated with him, including H&S Bakery and the extensive real estate holdings, are locked up in family trusts.
In her lawsuit, Roula Paterakis said her husband kept millions of dollars in cash in safes and bank accounts that should be in the estate, and that William Paterakis and Venice Smith had filed “false tax returns” that didn’t account for such assets.
The siblings’ suit says that John Paterakis “had some bakery business cash delivered to the house and some or all of these funds may not have been properly reported for tax purposes.” But it goes on to allege that Roula Paterakis “routinely” spent and benefited from this cash and was “unjustly enriched by amounts that should have been paid in taxes.”
Additionally, they defended the trusts that Roula Paterakis claimed were “shams” as above board and part of their father’s estate planning.
“Roula Paterakis wants the court to see her as a victim, but as our filing today shows, she was no victim,” said Jeffrey E. Nusinov, who represents William Paterakis and Venice Smith. “Roula seeks to undermine John Paterakis's careful, legitimate estate and business succession planning.
“The Paterakis family is determined to resist her effort and to establish the truth about what occurred and to vindicate the family's good name.”