Inside the Battle for the Herbalife Heir to Beverly Hills’ Billion-Dollar Mountain

over the light The mountain of Los Angeles stands, impenetrable to the power players and business tycoons of Hollywood who are plotting and scheming below. Many have occupied its 157 acres, but the mountain is technically inaccessible. Spanning a surface area larger than 100 football fields, this grassy, ​​lush mountain peak has been the prize of Middle Eastern royals, A-list stars, and mega-moguls – once valued at $1 billion. Rihanna, Salma Hayek, James Cameron, Elon Musk, and others have made pilgrimages to the Mountain for rotating Oscar parties and charity balls. Yet the only creatures that make the mountain their home are the deer that roam nearby. At other points known as Tower Grove or Vineyards, the mountain of Beverly Hills is arguably the city’s most spectacularly undeveloped parcel.

For the rare people who have owned it, the mountain has been both a blessing and a curse. The last Shah of Iran’s sister was once the owner of the mountain. He planned to build a palace for his brother in exile, until the Molotov-cocktail-hurling Iranian students changed their mind. Then came Merv Griffin, who at its peak built the biggest mansion in the city to best Aaron Spelling; Then he ran out of steam. In 1997, Griffin sold Herbalife guru Mark Hughes for $8.5 million, setting a Southern California record at the time. Hughes plans to build his own dream home there, but his entire dream is shattered. Three years after Hughes bought the plot, he had died of an alcohol- and antidepressant-fueled overdose. The $400 million in assets, including Mountain, reportedly went to their only son, Alex, who was eight years old at the time.

And a brutal war ensued, in which Alex and his mother, Suzanne Hughes, pitted against the estate’s three trustees, whose role was to protect the estate’s assets until Alex was 35 years old. But as Suzanne put it in court, the trustees had their own plans. “Instead of acting like trustees, they wanted to be Mark Hughes and grow Mountain himself,” Suzanne explained. VF Initiating several lawsuits, Suzanne alleged that the group made “arbitrary and arbitrary” decisions and were hostile to Alex. She also alleged that she was sexually harassed by a trustee and she wanted them to be removed. The trustees denied her allegations, and Suzanne lost. She cast herself as David in a pre-#MeToo world against her Goliath, who denies her claims as the mother protecting her child, while the trustees respond that she trusts them for their own benefit. wanted to take away control.

“The belief of everyone on the trustees’ side was that Suzanne herself was suing to take over the trust, as she was the mother of the only child and heir and therefore should be the trustee, even though it was Mark’s money and she could choose to had the right to choose who he wanted to manage for Alex’s benefit—even though Mark didn’t know much about the people he was naming and he eventually abused the trust, “an attorney who was once the trustees.” worked for, told VF “I never felt they were managing this property because they cared about Alex.”

The trustees consulted with a psychiatrist and a rabbi about the potentially harmful effect of money on a child. As trustee, then-lawyer Edward A. Woods said in a 2005 interview Los Angeles Times: “Does he need a chandelier or would he be content with something from IKEA?” Any child with Ikea would be fine, but Alex was raised in houses that were a budget fixture in feminine terms. In court papers, Suzanne stated that Alex’s lifestyle when his father was alive “included vacationing with Mark at his lavish beach house, cruising on Mark’s yacht, driving in Mark’s fleet of luxury cars and having an extraordinary reputation.” , attending events of grandeur and extravagance.” As Suzanne sees it, Mark hired trustees to maintain Alex’s lifestyle, not downgrade it. “These three people are employees, sycophants and dictators,” Suzanne told a reporter in 2003. “Suzanne wants Alex to have the life she wants for her father,” her lawyer, the late Hillel Chodos, said in a separate interview. “They hate Suzanne. She criticizes them. They don’t like criticism.”

As the court battle erupts, Alex is thrown into an unwanted spotlight, having been referred to as “America’s Richest Teen”. At the center of the lawsuits was the mountain, which Mark wanted to preserve for his son. The property costs about $250,000 a year to maintain through 2020, but maintenance was never a question. The trustees saw its potential as a development site. In 2004, the trustees sold Mountain to an Atlanta businessman, Charles “Chip” Dickens, in a no-cash deal, and lent Dickens money to buy Mountain, and Mountain was lost. When Alex turned 18 in December 2009, he hired his lawyers and began his trial to remove the trustees. In 2013, he won, mainly because the trustees had failed the Mountain sale so badly. Judge Michelle Bekloff ultimately showed the trustees “a gross breach of trust” that “borders on negligence” and “resulted in significant damage to the trust.” According to a court ruling, the trustees lent money to Dickens, a man with no experience and no money, then sat back and did nothing because his company was constantly defaulting. The trust is now run by institutional trustees at the Fiduciary International Trust of California. While Alex, now 30, declined to be interviewed, sources say he agreed with his mother’s actions. (“His interests have always been aligned,” said a legal source.) “Alex has gone through so much, he just wants to be out of the spotlight,” said a source close to him. “He’s not ready to talk yet.” (Alex is an independent producer and founder of Spacemaker Productions who most recently co-produced Armageddon time, Starring Anne Hathaway, Jeremy Strong, and Anthony Hopkins, which received a standing ovation at Cannes in May.) “My son’s privacy is über-important,” says Suzanne. “He didn’t ask for any of these.”

the golden hour has blossomed As we reached the top of the mountain. Ribbons of colored lights and jet umbilical cords adorned the sky, and a family of deer cried in the distance. My guide breathed out. Aerobic exercise less, a long sigh of relief.

Suzanne Hughes said, “Standing here makes everything worth it.” The mountain was Mark’s dream, not his. But she is ready to talk about her fight to keep it up and her life with Hughes. “Did you see Insider?” she asks about the tobacco-industry whistleblower, referring to the 1999 film starring Al Pacino (and incidentally based on 1996) Vanity Fair Article). “For 13 years I felt the same way. Opening up today takes a lot out of me. It takes me back there. ,

There is a drop of about 1,400 feet and the Pacific beyond LA. On July 4, Suzanne says, you can see fireworks displays from five different enclaves, including Malibu, Marina del Rey, and Encino. “I wanted to take Alex here to watch the fireworks after his father’s death. But the trustees wouldn’t give us the keys.”

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