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Chuck Yeager Wins Round in Heir Battle

A daughter is ordered to pay the fighter ace almost $1 million in a dispute over his assets.

April 21, 2006|Shawn Hubler | Times Staff Writer

Chuck Yeager's daughter, who managed the 83-year-old test pilot's assets after the death of his first wife, has been ordered to pay her father nearly $1 million for violating her duties as his trustee in her zeal to protect his wealth from his second wife.

After nearly two years of deliberations, a Nevada County Superior Court referee determined that Susan Yeager improperly profited when she had her father's trust buy her out of property the two co-owned in Northern California near Nevada City.

The ruling, quietly signed by a judge late last month, found that the daughter, now 55 and living in Hawaii, could keep a family condominium Yeager had deeded first to her and then to his new wife. But Susan Yeager was ordered to reimburse the retired general's trust $915,018.68 in profits and back taxes incurred in the land sale, as well as an estimated $38,000 in court costs.

Yeager's lawyer and his heirs indicated this week, however, that the battle might not be over.

Susan Yeager could not be reached, but her brother Don said the heirs plan to appeal the financial judgment. And Yeager's lawyer said the general and his new wife are preparing a lawsuit, alleging that the children underfunded their father's pension plan.

"Round 2's gonna be coming up pretty quick," said Yeager's lawyer, George A. Roberts.

The case, which has estranged Yeager from his four grown children, cast a harsh light on the family of an American icon -- a World War II fighter pilot ace who went on to break the sound barrier and become the hero of the book and movie "The Right Stuff."

Technically, the Superior Court matter dealt with a tangle of lawsuits involving a modest cache of assets -- some rural property, a little money, a tractor, some lithographs autographed by Yeager and the rights to his life story beyond what has already been covered in the public domain and in his autobiographies. But its emotional center was the widower's decision in 2003 to marry Victoria Scott D'Angelo, 36 years his junior and a former actress and sometime drifter whom his children distrusted.

In interviews, Yeager and his second wife contended that the children feared losing control of their father's fortune, which his daughter, Susan, had managed after the 1990 death of his first wife, Glennis.

The children, however, said they loved their father and feared he had been duped by a sinister opportunist. Court records showed more than 30 lawsuits and numerous restraining orders filed by or against D'Angelo, who was accused in one of physically attacking a 77-year-old San Fernando Valley landlady after trying to persuade her that the woman's grown children didn't love her.

According to court documents, the trouble began soon after the retired general introduced his daughter to his new girlfriend in March 2000. At the time, the father and daughter were living next door to each other on the jointly owned Penn Valley property.

Gradually, court testimony showed, Yeager became estranged from his family and friends. Meanwhile, the referee found, Susan Yeager quietly took steps to place his assets out of his reach.

But as Yeager's new relationship became serious, the general made it clear to his children that he and D'Angelo would handle his money.

Eventually, Susan Yeager and her father became so estranged that they decided to have his trust buy her out of her home, giving her cash and a condominium in Nevada City. But soon afterward, Yeager deeded the condo to D'Angelo, clouding the title and initiating a barrage of lawsuits.

Eventually the case was narrowed to a few issues and assigned to a retired judge, who, acting as referee, conducted hearings in 2004 and then spent more than a year in deliberations. A judge signed the decision on March 30.

The decision awarded the disputed lithographs, cash and life story rights to Yeager, and the tractor to the family corporation, in which Yeager has a one-fifth stake.

The condominium was found to belong to Susan Yeager, but the court determined that her buyout from the co-owned property was arranged in a way that had netted her an illegal profit of more than $850,000.

That money, along with compensation for interest and other negligent transactions, was ordered repaid.

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