The juiciest, messiest, weirdest rich-dead-guy’s-estate muckup EVER

John Leland’s New York Times piece in yesterday’s Metropolitan Section of the New York Times, modestly entitled Mr. Tran’s Messy Life and Legacy –, has a little sub-head:

From North Vietnam to Times Square, the father of 16 children left a trail of mistresses, intrigue, $100 million and no will.

That’s a taste. (The legal term for dying without a will is “intestate,” which sounds sort of like a sexual problem, doesn’t it? Soon we’ll begin seeing TV ads with affectionate couples being cute around the kitchen while a voice over murmurs, “Intestate problems? They don’t have to affect your intimacy, no they don’t. Ask your lawyer if Testatrix is right for you.”) The article − delicately imbued with a salting of sarcasm − begins like this:

Truong Dinh Tran led a mostly uneventful life, unless you count spending two years in a North Vietnamese prison, swimming his way to South Vietnam, building a fortune in wartime, fleeing to the United States with a suitcase full of cash and another full of gold, installing himself and his four paramours and their children in a single-room-occupancy hotel on Manhattan’s West Side, becoming a subject of the biggest federal seizure of property related to drug charges in American history, and then donating $2 million to the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund after Sept. 11. When he died, in 2012, Mr. Tran left a fortune valued at $100 million, at least 16 children by five women, one self-described wife, and no last will and testament.

In death, he became a case study in the uncertainty of all knowledge, especially as fought over by people vying to inherit his money — or, as one family member put it, people who “are masters of deception and very cunning when it comes to selling their truth.”

Oh yeah. You’ll want to read it. It’s as much fun to follow as a John Le Carré thriller. And as you do, consider with me how breathtakingly simple was the internecine warfare Perelman family members engaged in, by comparison.

PS. As a deposition aficionado, I must quote below a deposition exchange in this case:

Through lawyers or directly, the parties involved declined or did not respond to requests for interviews for this article, but they have told their stories in extensive court documents.

One thing everyone involved can agree on: Somebody else is lying.

A sense of the absurd permeates even the driest of court depositions:

Lawyer No. 1: “Are you truthful?”

Lawyer No. 2, representing the woman who says she is Mr. Tran’s wife: “I will direct her not to answer.”

Lawyer No. 1: “Have you told the truth here today?”

Lawyer No. 2: “I will direct her not to answer …”

Lawyer No. 1: “Have you lied in the lawsuit?”

Lawyer No. 2: “I will direct her not to answer.”

Lawyer No. 1: “Have you lied today?”

Lawyer No. 2: “I will direct her not to answer.”

UPDATE 8/20/2014: I guess matters are proceeding in the late Mr. Tran’s messy estate. Just picked this up from the New York Law Journal:

Surrogate’s Court, New York County

Administration Proceeding, Estate of Truong Tran, a/k/a Truong Dinh Tran, Deceased, 2012-1785/A

Trusts and Estates

Administrator Authorized to Direct Any Steps Needed for Testing of Decedent’s DNA Sample


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