The Royal Family

When Lee Tabas went public with a letter questioning his brother Robert’s leadership of the family bank in Narberth, he pulled back the veil on a real-life soap opera: a storied, wealthy Main Line family torn asunder by greed, backstabbing and gossip; a colorful patriarch who pitted son against son; and a trail of scandal and lawsuits that has almost everyone not talking to someone else. Meet the Tabases

In 1986, the estate of Charles Tabas sued Daniel Tabas for cheating his brother’s family out of millions. The dispute roared on for decades, in and out of the courts, in and out of the papers, eventually dubbed by one participant “the Tabas Family Saga.” Now it’s snarled to the surface again. “It’s not easy,” Robert Tabas told the Philadelphia Business Journal after Lee’s letter hit the press. “But we are family.”

And they are family. One that some colleagues and acquaintances describe as loving, supportive and unabashedly generous. But one that also makes the Ewings look like the Waltons. And one that would make anyone want to be poor.

IT’S HARD TO decide when the Tabas Family Saga got ugliest. 

Was it when Charles’s wife and kids sued Dan and his kids the first time for not giving them their fair share? Or when they sued again, this time waving federal RICO charges and claiming he’d been bilking them for years through a racketeering scheme and mail fraud? Or when Dan Tabas called his brother’s family’s behavior “disgraceful,” then added, “My brother must be rolling in his grave”? Perhaps it was when Charles’s daughter, Nancy, claimed that her uncle Daniel “hated my father and he hated us because we were his children,” or maybe when Daniel said that his sister-in-law Harriette, who has three children, two of them adopted, was jealous because “I have a beautiful family and she couldn’t have a family.” Or was it when Charles’s son Andy declared, “My uncle’s ego is so big, you couldn’t fit it in Veterans Stadium”?

Or was the ugliest part of the Tabas Family Saga simply the fact that the Tabas family just couldn’t let anything go?

Last fall, when Eric Naftulin came across Lee Tabas’s letter on the Internet, he was worried. As executive director of Federation Housing in Northeast Philadelphia, Naftulin manages homes for elderly people who are poor, and two of his buildings carry the Tabas family name. When he’d approached Robert, his board president, about renovating the Samuel Tabas House on Strahle Street, Robert had said, “Let me talk to my brother about this.” Not only did the Tabas brothers come up with money for the project; they were on the guest list for an event the week after the letter came out, to celebrate the remodeled first floor.

It had never occurred to Naftulin that there might be bad blood in the Tabas clan. Lee and Robert always showed up at events. Last year, Robert’s daughter called and asked if she and her girlfriends could put on a little concert for the residents — they came and brought lunch. In April, Robert was on the West Coast when one of the residents took a spill. He called Naftulin at 4 a.m. California time, saying, “I read your e-mail about the accident and I can’t sleep. Is everyone okay?” “They are two gentlemen who want to do good,” Naftulin says of the Tabas brothers.