Perelmans at War

Most families squabble, but few do it quite like Philadelphia’s Perelmans. In a legal clash that includes allegations of stealing and duplicity, son Jeffrey is pitted against his tycoon father Raymond and his starlet-marrying, headline-grabbing brother Ron. One thing’s for sure: Thanksgiving at the Perelman house will never be the same

For several months, Judge Adams worked diligently to hammer out an agreement between Raymond and Jeffrey that would, it was hoped, accomplish two aims: bring Jeffrey back into the Perelman business fold, and glue Ruth’s fractured family back together. In January 1990, a deal was done: Through a series of a dozen purchase agreements, Raymond would sell Jeffrey assets and/or stock in several of his companies for a purchase price of $27 million. Jeffrey would be his own boss; Ruth would have her son back; Raymond would make Ruth happy. But there were conditions on the deal imposed by Raymond, among them that half of the conveyed assets be placed in an irrevocable trust for the benefit of Jeffrey’s daughter, Alison, and that the deal not generate any gift, generational skipping or capital gains taxes for him. Ruth later stated that she and Raymond “both wanted to ensure … that Alison be able to enjoy the type of wealth that we had enjoyed.”

And so a peace accord was reached. But like those in the Middle East, this one would prove fragile.

Today, Raymond and Jeffrey Perelman are locked in a heinous, contentious battle over the deal that was supposed to ensure their lasting concord. Waged in two separate lawsuits in both state and federal court, it has split the Perelman family in two and left its genteel matriarch shattered and inconsolable. It also threatens to rock both Rittenhouse and Main Line society and, given the charitable habits of the parties involved, perhaps even Philadelphia philanthropy. In essence, Raymond is accusing Jeffrey of lying, deception, and nothing less than swindling his own daughter. Jeffrey is firing back that he’s had it with years of Raymond’s anger and abuse, and that his father’s charges are nothing more than “a father bent on destroying his son’s reputation.” And then there’s Ron, whom Jeffrey accuses in court papers of trying to “fan the flames” of the battle. (Ron himself has been conspicuously silent thus far. It’s not likely to stay that way.)

When disputes arise in families, there is resentment, there is anger, there is usually some small but measurable fallout: Your brother and his wife don’t come to Thanksgiving dinner; Aunt Louise stops sending birthday checks. But with the Perelmans, there are no mere family disputes. Only wars. Fire up the torches, sharpen the knives, slash until they’re all dead wars.

In the end, this war — which is likely to get a lot more public and a lot more awful before it’s over, especially if Ron Perelman gallops into town — is about what most courtroom brawls among families with net worths in the hundreds of millions are about: money. Indeed, Ron was the subject of a recent blistering feature in Fortune that detailed his scorched earth battle over a trust controlled by his late ex wife’s near invalid father. “Look at that story,” says an incredulous business magnate who grew up with Ron and Jeffrey on the Main Line. “This is what they do.”