Billionaire land developer Donald L. Bren has a reputation as a major political donor and a generous philanthropist. But two of his children from a former girlfriend are alleging the Irvine Co. chairman was stingy with their child support.
Their years-long legal battle is expected to go to trial this week. Bren's children, Christie, 22, and David, 18, are seeking retroactive child support in the amount of $400,000 a month each.
The potentially massive payments are deserved, their attorney says, given the $3 million to $5 million per month they contend Bren was spending during years he would have been paying formal child support. Bren's attorney disputed that amount.
The bitter civil claim has proved to be a rare window into Bren's fortune. In court records, former girlfriend Jennifer McKay Gold described a luxurious lifestyle, including a fleet of five jets with two full-time pilots, a 240-foot yacht with a crew, lavish homes in Bel-Air and Orange County, a ranch in Idaho and a large staff of servants.
"It costs a lot of money to keep all of these things going," Gold recalled Bren saying in a conversation about his spending.
Bren, 78, has an estimated net worth of $12 billion and is 16th in Forbes magazine's ranking of the 400 richest Americans. Still, he leads a private life, rarely granting interviews or giving public speeches.
Attorney Hillel Chodos, who represents Gold and her children, said Bren had gone to "incredible lengths" to avoid detailing his fortune.
"I must have eight feet of paper on this topic from Bren," Chodos said. "Motions, protective orders, objections.... He doesn't want it disclosed."
Attorneys on both sides said judges' rulings had significantly limited the amount of financial information Bren has had to turn over.
The jury's decision on how much, if anything, the children deserve will revolve mainly around Gold's descriptions of Bren's wealth in the years they were together, they said. Generally, child support is determined more formulaically, using a complex calculation that takes into account the parents' income and how much time each parent can spend with the child.
Gold and her children say that for years they had an out-of-court agreement with Bren that he would provide financial support to the children and maintain a parental relationship. On average, he was providing each child with about $10,000 a month during those years, Chodos said.
But they say Bren broke that agreement. Their suit — which was filed in 2003 — alleges that if the real estate magnate had been paying formal child support from 1988 to 2002, the payments would have been considerably larger.
Attorney John Quinn, who is representing Bren, referred questions to the land developer's personal attorney Jon Freund.
Freund blamed the children and their mother, saying Bren has fully complied with past agreements and paid more than $9 million to support the children.
"He's paid millions of dollars, and now 15 years later [Gold is] coming out with an oral promise that she told no one about," Freund said. "She's just trying to get more money out of him."
Gold alleged Bren stopped seeing the children in 1997 after she told him she no longer wanted to be "intimately involved" with him. Years later, she said, she ran into Bren in Beverly Hills, and he refused to speak to the children.