Skakel family feuding about money
By Lindsey Faber - Greenwich Time

STAMFORD -- Michael Skakel's father, Rushton Skakel Sr., is embroiled in a legal dispute over the distribution of trust fund money his parents set aside for his brother James in the 1950s, according to papers filed in state Superior Court.

Rushton Skakel Sr., now 78, was appointed as trustee of the two funds, one established by each of his parents for his brother on Jan. 7, 1957. The trusts from Ann and George Skakel for James Skakel held more than $300,000 when they were created, according to court documents.

The Skakels established similar trusts for all of their children, said Christopher Kristoff, the attorney for James Skakel's five children. The money in James Skakel's trusts grew over time to about $2 million, he said.

Rushton Skakel was named as trustee for his brother's trust and hired Darien attorney Thomas Kraig to administer it sometime prior to 1990, according to court documents.

When James Skakel died on April 25, 1998, the money left over was to be spread among James Skakel's five children, James J. Skakel, Andrew Skakel, Earl Skakel, Caroline Skakel Pinkey and Virginia Skakel O'Neal, according to court documents.

Recently, Rushton Skakel Sr. submitted to the Greenwich Probate Court a final account of the funds so he could be released as trustee. Included in that account are hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal and accounting fees paid to Kraig and several major corporations for managing the money.

But James Skakel's children complain that the fees were excessive. They took their case to court earlier this year and won.

On April 24, the court denied fees of $39,921 to be paid from George Skakel's trust to Darien attorney Thomas Kraig, as well as an additional $29,951 to an accounting firm. The court also denied $43,697 to Kraig from Ann Skakel's trust and $29,951 to the accounting firm.

That money included funds accumulated after James Skakel's death.

Probate Judge David Tobin ruled that the money paid to Kraig prior to James Skakel's death was ample. Last week, Rushton Skakel appealed that ruling through his attorney, John Vecchiolla of Greenwich. The reasons for the appeals are expected to be filed late this week.

Vecchiolla declined to comment on the case, saying, "It's a real technical matter and hopefully the parties will resolve the issues."

Christopher Kristoff, the attorney for James Skakel's five children, said the fees paid to Kraig were "outrageous."

"When James Skakel died, this trust should have been closed out by the end of that year and then terminated and distributed," Kristoff said. "Kraig has got a litany of reasons why he didn't do that. He said there were a lot of tax questions to deal with and there were some accounting problems that delayed it a couple of years. But he just kept taking fees."

At one point, Kristoff said, the trust funds each contained about one million dollars. Very little money, somewhere in the low tens of thousands, is left in the funds, Kristoff added.

Kraig declined to comment through his daughter, who referred all questions to Kraig's own attorney, Mike Jones of Greenwich.

Jones also declined to offer a lengthy comment about the issues at hand.

"We basically decided we're going to say, 'no comment' to everything," Jones said. "I know the Skakel name has some attraction, but this doesn't really have anything to do with Michael Skakel. We really don't want this in the papers."

Kraig submitted a letter to the court in February in an effort to justify the legal expenses, saying he had provided years of free service to the Skakels, who have benefited from his work.

Kristoff said he and the children have had no contact with Rushton Skakel Sr. about the fees and have dealt solely with Kraig, whom Rushton Skakel hired to administer the trust.

"This was never something between the nieces and nephews and their Uncle Rushton," Kristoff said. "That's not what this is about."

It is unclear how much of a role Rushton Skakel Sr. has played in this round of legal wrangling. At his son Michael's murder trial in May, he presented the court with a letter from his doctor saying he suffers from dementia, a form of memory loss.

On the witness stand, he said he could not remember what happened on Sept. 11, nor could he remember the names of all of his seven children.

In his April ruling that denied payment from the funds, Tobin said, "It does not appear that the Trustee himself played an active role in supervising the actions of his counsel or accountants."

Emanuel Margolis, a longtime Skakel family attorney, said he was aware of the trust fund controversy but did not know a lot about it.

"It isn't anything I could discuss with a newspaper reporter anyway," Margolis said.

Michael Skakel was convicted in June of murdering Martha Moxley in 1975. His sentencing is set for Aug. 9. He faces from 10 years to life in prison.

Copyright 2002, Southern Connecticut Newspapers, Inc.

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