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

BUT THEN, IN 1983, Charles Tabas died.

So, too, did his father’s wish that the family would always come first.

“My father couldn’t have been dead more than a couple of days when Uncle Dan came in waving a paper that stated that the surviving brother becomes the manager of the business,” Nancy Tabas, Charles’s daughter, told the Inquirer in 2001. “My brothers and I looked at each other. We had barely buried my father in the ground.”

At first, having Dan in charge seemed to work. Both he and Charles’s widow, Harriette, received $10,000 checks each month from the business, which also paid various personal expenses for them. Plus, Dan took in as much as $180,000 a year for managing Tabas Enterprises. But after three years, Tabas Enterprises suddenly stopped paying Harriette’s expenses, even as it kept paying Dan’s.     

Harriette responded with a lawsuit. It claimed that her brother-in-law was being unfair with the income, and that he was also sending false financial statements and using business money for personal use.

“No one was happy about being in court,” says Roy Jonas, who flew up from Florida to try and help the Tabases work things out.

One person close to the family, though, says that all of this had very little to do with Dan not playing fair with the money. The real issue was that Dan hadn’t played fair with his niece and nephews. According to the friend, soon after Charles died, Dan took all of Charles’s kids off the payrolls of the various family businesses. That, says the friend, is what ignited the fire. “I don’t know why he fired them,” says the friend, who notes that at the time, all the Tabas cousins had been working for the family business, though their jobs didn’t necessarily require much work. “If it was me, I would have hired them back as soon as there was a problem. But once Dan took a position, he wouldn’t back away from it.”

Which may be why even after Dan signed a settlement agreement in 1987 that said, among other things, he would allow Charles’s family to see the books for Tabas Enterprises, he continued to withhold them.

And that may be why Harriette dialed it up a notch: She filed another suit against Dan, his family, and some executives at Royal Bank. But this one wasn’t in the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas. This complaint was federal — brought in 1991 under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, claiming that Dan Tabas and the rest of the defendants “conspired to defraud the Estate of its equal share of Tabas Enterprises’ income … through a pattern of racketeering activity including mail fraud” that deprived them of more than $3 million that rightfully belonged to Charles’s family.

That’s when things really got nasty.