A man who says that he is the adopted son of the late Rev. James Cleveland wants to lay claim to a share of the fortune left behind when the Grammy-winning singer known as the "King of Gospel" died in February.
Andre M. Cleveland of Northridge, a rhythm and blues record producer, asserted at a news conference Tuesday that he is entitled to half of the Cleveland estate, estimated at $6 million.
Cleveland, 34, also challenged the validity of a trust agreement authorized by James Cleveland's longtime business manager shortly before his death from congestive heart failure.
Andre Cleveland and his attorney said the business manager, Annette May Thomas, authorized the creation of a trust and named herself trustee Feb. 8, the night before Cleveland's death. The attorney for the trust said Thomas--who held power of attorney for the gospel great--had discussed the trust with Cleveland before he slipped into a coma. Through the attorney, Donald Garner, Thomas denied any impropriety.
All of this is making for an unholy ruckus over the estate of the man who at his peak recorded music with Aretha Franklin and earned a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. It also has led to tensions at the southwest Los Angeles church where Cleveland was pastor before he died--without a will--at age 59.
The turmoil and genealogical complications were evident Tuesday in the West Hollywood hotel meeting room where Cleveland held the news conference.
At the end of the news conference, a Los Angeles woman named Jean Ervin disputed Cleveland's claims and said she is the mother of Cleveland's only biological daughter, LaShone Cleveland, 25.
Before bodyguards asked her to leave, Ervin read a statement she said was signed by her daughter. It said, "I was never apprised by my father that I had a brother biologically, by adoption, or acknowledged in any fashion."
Ervin, who said she still sings in the choir at the Cleveland-founded Cornerstone Institutional Baptist Church at Slauson and Western avenues, said Andre Cleveland was just one of the many homeless, fatherless children the minister took into his Windsor Hills home.
At the center of the controversy is the James Cleveland Trust, set up to help fund the Cornerstone church and the Gospel Music Workshop of America.
The trust is believed to call for the sale of the church building and other Cleveland properties, with part of the proceeds going to buy a more economical church building. That prospect has sparked disputes among church members, some of whom don't want to move.
At issue in Tuesday's news conference, however, were other aspects of the trust agreement.
According to a partial copy of the private trust document, provided to The Times by Andre Cleveland's attorney, LaShone, listed in the document as Cleveland's daughter, is left $100,000. Andre Cleveland, described as Cleveland's "friend and godson," was allocated only $10,000.
In the trust, Andre's last name is given as McIsaac. He said Tuesday that he had changed his name to Cleveland as a teen-ager.
"After a year or so of living under the same roof, it was . . . mutually agreed that I become his common-law son, bearing his name," he said.
Garner, the Santa Monica attorney who represents the Cleveland Trust, said he considers Andre Cleveland's charges "troubling" and unsubstantiated.
Thomas could not be reached for comment Tuesday. But Garner said Thomas, who started more than 25 years ago as Cleveland's church secretary, acted properly and in accordance with James Cleveland's wishes.
Andre Cleveland has threatened to file a lawsuit challenging the trust. He said he would not do so for monetary gain, but because of "the principle of the matter. Something really smells fishy."