Pelicans’ owner Tom Benson puts wife Gayle next in line of succession for team, gets sued by other family members

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At age 87, Tom Benson is not a young man. And like many his age, he wants to make sure his affairs are in order when the inevitable does come.

What that means for the New Orleans Pelicans — as well as the NFL’s Saints — is that Benson’s wife Gayle will take control upon his passing, something Benson himself announced on Thursday.

But it didn’t come without controversy. This plan is a change from the previous succession plans for the two sports franchises — Rita Benson LeBlanc, Tom Benson’s granddaughter, had been his handpicked successor. However she and her husband are now completely out of the picture including losing her company car (a Mercedes) and phone, according to the Times-Picayune.

Rita Benson LeBlanc and other family members have since filed a lawsuit against Tom Benson saying he is incompetent and that he is being manipulated by his wife Gayle, according to the Times-Picayune.

The suit was filed one day after Tom Benson unexpectedly announced plans to transfer future ownership of the clubs to wife, Gayle, cutting off his daughter, Renee LeBlanc, and his two grandchildren, Ryan LeBlanc and Rita Benson LeBlanc, who until recently had been designated as the heir apparent.

The legal battle lays bare the internal strife within one of Louisiana’s richest families and its highest profile business owners, pitting Benson and his wife of 10 years against his adopted daughter and her children….

Renee, Rita and Ryan LeBlanc, are named as petitioners in the suit, which claims the 87-year-old Benson’s declining health is much worse than publicly known and has rendered him unfit to manage his personal affairs or the business of the New Orleans Saints and New Orleans Pelicans.

The suit portrays Gayle, 67, as a gold digger.

Here is what Benson said of his decision in a released statement:

“This is something I have thought about and prayed about for a while now. Over the past 60 years, I have been fortunate enough to build a number of successful businesses not only in New Orleans but also in San Antonio. Throughout those years, I have included my family as well as a strong management team around me to run these businesses, whether they be banks, automobile dealerships, television stations or professional sports franchises. I want to continue this model of proven success. This is about the legacy of these two teams and everything we have done for the good of the city of New Orleans and our region –my primary goal is to give the organization the foundation to live on after me for many, many years.”

Benson added, “I agree that this is somewhat of a change in what has been formally declared but this is best for our teams and our community.”

If Benson’s plan stays in place, as far as the Pelicans (and Saints) operations nothing really changes, everyone just reports to a new boss at the top of the ladder. The rest of the management team stays intact.

Tom Benson married Gayle in 2004, and she played a key role in rebranding the team the Pelicans — something local and native to New Orleans — from the Hornets name, which had followed the team from Charlotte under a previous owner. She also has been involved in building naming rights deals and more.

Benson wanted to be clear that, while he’s had a bad knee, his there is no health concern on the horizon that forced this change.

“I enjoy it, I truly do,” Benson said. “I love being in the office and being around the coaches and players and staff and being a part of what they are doing. I have just come to a point in my life where I need to make some tough decisions on how things are going to be planned out. My wife, Gayle, is very important to me. She is born in New Orleans. She has been a businesswoman in this city for many years and is actively involved in many charitable organizations, the Catholic Church, hospitals, schools and university boards, to name a few…I am very proud of her. She is the most logical and natural person closest to me that will ensure the continuity, the stability and the success of our Saints and Pelicans in the city of New Orleans for a long time. “