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Family Feuds: Two Case Studies

September 12, 1993|BETTIJANE LEVINE

THE HAFTS: Herbert and Gloria Haft, married 45 years, toiled for decades to build an empire that included three children and up to $1 billion in assets--all starting from a single drugstore where he was the pharmacist and she the cosmetologist. What could go wrong? Everything.

In a Washington, D.C., courtroom last month, the parents battled and pitted their children against each other in a Cain-and-Abel fight--each side aiming to win control of the huge Dart Group corporation, which includes Trak Auto and Crown Books, both started by older son Robert (who sides with his mother).

But Herbert has already kicked his wife and older son out of their jobs and off the corporate board, alleging that Robert lagged on the job and "let competitors eat his lunch." The patriarch has now picked his younger son, Ronald, to succeed him. He has also accused his wife of physical and verbal abuse, and of forming "an unholy alliance" with son Robert. Gloria alleges that her husband tossed her at a bedpost, was verbally abusive, played around with other women and spent $1.5 million to pay off a mistress.

Some close to this feud say Herbert's extreme anger may be due to a bruised ego: A recent Wall Street Journal article, they say, gave Robert Haft a good review, but paid little attention to Haft Sr.

THE WYATTS: On a hot July day in Houston, oil billionaire Oscar S. Wyatt Jr. sued his already cash-poor brother-in-law, Robert Sakowitz.

Wyatt, his socialite wife, Lynn, and their four sons had sued Lynn's brother twice before, humiliating him above and beyond what he'd suffered when the family's Sakowitz department stores went bankrupt in 1985.

The Wyatt suits, filed in 1986, 1987 and this year, pit Lynn's husband and sons against her aging mother and only brother, demanding money they may not have.

The suits allege that Robert Sakowitz mismanaged the family-owned stores, took wine and clothes from stock and money from the family trust (in which Lynn was supposed to share) for his personal use, driving the operation into bankruptcy.

Even if all this were true, observers ask, why would one of the richest women in the world pursue her own mother and brother (with whom she was once very close) for money she doesn't need?

Jane Wolfe spent two years exploring the struggle and the Wyatt-Sakowitz family dynamic for her book "Blood Rich," which came out last month. She says money has little to do with the vendetta: "Wyatt grew up poor and seems to hate any man 'born with a silver spoon' who didn't have to work for it."

As for Lynn's motive: "Mrs. Wyatt told the court not long ago that her parents loved her brother more than they loved her."

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