Huguette Clark's inner circle speaks
Watch 25 video excerpts from testimony by the reclusive heiress's nurse, personal assistant, goddaughter, attorney, and accountant
Five members of the inner circle of the reclusive copper heiress Huguette Clark speak out in 25 video excerpts of sworn testimony, newly available on the website of the No. 1 bestselling biography "Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune."
The five — Huguette's nurse, personal assistant, goddaughter, attorney, and accountant — testified in videotaped depositions as part of the court battle over her $300 million estate. Although portions of their testimony appeared in "Empty Mansions," this is the first time the video excerpts and full transcripts have been available to the public.
The five witnesses:
- The nurse, Hadassah Peri, who served as a private-duty nurse for Huguette in the hospital for twenty years, and received from Huguette $31 million in gifts while Huguette lived. In the settlement of the Clark estate, Peri agreed to pay back $5 million to the estate, and gave up rights to millions more that Huguette had left her in her will. In her testimony, Peri describes how Huguette came to give her a Stradivarius violin, how they passed the time for 20 years in the hospital, how she objected when Huguette wanted to give her a painting by Cezanne, She also reflects on Huguette's character and temperament. Peri cautions the attorneys at the table never to buy a Bentley, as she did. And we listen to a telephone conversation between Peri and Huguette when the heiress was 101 years old.
- The personal assistant, Chris Sattler, who took care of her three Manhattan apartments, fine paintings, and vast doll collection. Sattler explains his duties taking care of the dolls. He laments that people get the wrong impression of Huguette because she loved dolls and cartoons. He said Huguette kept buying dolls at auction, because she loved the bidding, but had so many dolls that she started to give them away. Sattler describes Huguette's reactions as he would attempt to follow her instructions for setting up scenes of tiny Japanese dolls.
- The goddaughter, Wanda Styka, daughter of Huguette's painting instructor Tadé Styka. Wanda Styka wrote kind letters to Huguette for decades, and received a bequest worth millions. Styka describes how Huguette kept from her the fact that she was living in a hospital, and how the goddaughter didn't press for more information, respecting her godmother's privacy. Styka tells how her godmother Huguette warned her never to live alone. And she describes their last telephone conversation, in which Huguette, born in 1906, recalls World War I, World War II, and the passing years.
- The attorney, Wallace "Wally" Bock, who handled her legal affairs for years, although he met her only a few times in the hospital. The attorney describes his fears that Huguette was a soft touch for a sad story whenever the nurses and other would have a financial need or want. But Bock describes Huguette as an astute woman who gave gifts to people because she wanted to see them receive them. Bock said it was Huguette's choice to live in the hospital, and rejects a characterization of her as "like a spoiled child," calling her a strong-willed woman who did what she wanted.
- The accountant, Irving Kamsler, who handled her finances and was her health care proxy. In the settlement, the attorney and accountant gave up rights to bequests, fees as her executors, and roles as trustees. A well-publicized criminal investigation of their handling of the estate was closed quietly without charges. Kamsler says Huguette told him that she wanted none of her $300 million copper-mining inheritance to go to her family. He describes conversations in which he tried to slow down Huguette's gift giving, because of the difficulties in raising cash to pay all the gift taxes.
In these video excerpts, the witnesses offer glimpses of the character of Huguette, whom they describe as a lovely person, respectful, soft-spoken, concerned for others. Their testimony is largely a defense against the claim of her relatives that Huguette Clark was incompetent, and that she was unduly influenced by her nurse and attorney and accountant.
In addition to these video excerpts, you can read the full testimony by each of these five witnesses. Only a few phrases have been redacted from the transcripts to protect privacy, such as when a witness gives a home address or telephone number or refers to a relative's illness.
Here are the 25 videos:
The nurse, Hadassah Peri
1. "I give my life to her."
Nurse Hadassah Peri describes how she and Huguette Clark passed time in the hospital room for 20 years, first at Doctors Hospital and then at Beth Israel Medical Center. The attorney for the Clark relatives is asking whether Hadassah was fishing for gifts by telling her about needs such as family illnesses or tuition costs. Peri said that of course they talked about their lives, and Madame Clark would naturally ask about her life and her family. "I dedicate my life to Madame. For almost 14 years, I stayed more in Madame room than in my house. I worked 12 hours. My kids -- my husband is a mother and a father while I'm working with Madame. Family vacation, I miss. When the kids were growing up. ... Because she never want me to take off. She's uncomfortable with other people. ... I give my life to her."
Excerpt length: 1:39 minutes. Testimony of 08/13/2012, pp. 173-174.
2. "What shall I do with a painting?"
Peri tells about $15 million that Huguette Clark gave her from the sale of a painting, a still life of a pitcher by Cezanne. At first, Peri explains, Huguette wanted to give her the painting itself, instead of the cash. "I refuse it. What shall I do with a painting?" From the sale of another painting, Huguette also gave $10 million at the same time to her best friend, Madame Suzanne Pierre.
Excerpt length: 4:10 minutes. Testimony of 08/13/2012, pp. 180-184.
3. "She's very down to earth."
Peri describes how Huguette dressed in the hospital, wearing a typical hospital gown. Peri said she bought nice gowns for Huguette, but she wouldn't wear them. "She's very down to earth." Her only luxury was Cashmere sweaters from Scotland, often wearing more than one.
Excerpt length: 2:05 minutes. Testimony of 08/13/2012, pp. 92-94.
4. "Everybody have a shock."
Peri discusses how Huguette preferred to stay inside, resisting efforts to get her out for a walk in the park -- or anywhere else. She tells about one time Huguette left her hospital room to walk down the hall to visit Hadassah after the nurse had surgery in the same hospital. Peri described how they had to order the same shoes every time for Huguette, flat shoes from Daniel Green, her favorites. But one time, Huguette was dressed up and wearing high-heeled shoes, walking down the hallway to visit her nurse. "I never forget that. Everybody have a shock. ... She preferred to be inside. That's how private she is."
Excerpt length: 3:42 minutes. Testimony of 08/13/2012, pp. 95-98.
5. "She insist."
Peri describes how Huguette gave her a Stradivarius violin (her third best Stradivarius), because Huguette recalled that Peri's son had played the violin. Although the son had not played the violin in years, Huguette told her nurse, maybe he'll take it up again.
Excerpt length: 1:57 minutes. Testimony of 08/14/2012, pp. 405-407.
6. "A good heart and a good soul."
Peri describes Huguette as focused on her privacy, not wanting to see visitors, or any of her relatives, and as "very polite, very cordial, very well mannered. ... She's a very strong-willed person. And a mind of her own. Very stubborn at times. With a good heart and a good soul. And a very, very generous person. She never hurt a fly. You never heard her talking bad things. Never. Never bother anybody."
Excerpt length: 3:43 minutes. Testimony of 08/15/2012, pp. 537-539.
7. "I don't know why we buy this stupidity."
Peri describes a Bentley automobile that she and her husband bought from one of the three $5 million checks that Huguette gave them. She said her husband bought the luxury car so she would have something special, but she said she never enjoyed the Bentley. She discourages the attorneys at the table from ever buying a Bentley. "To tell you the truth, we never enjoy this car. ... So expensive to repair. You cannot drive anywhere. You scared somebody going to bang it. Any one of you guys to buy this, forget it. It's hell... I enjoy the American car. That's the truth. I cannot even drive it. My kids don't enjoy it. You are scared somebody going to steal it. I don't know why we buy this stupidity, you know."
Excerpt length: 2:49 minutes. Testimony of 08/13/2012, pp. 258-261.
8. "Good night, Hadassah."
Peri describes answering machine messages, actually several conversations between her and Huguette that were captured on her answering machine in about 2007, when Huguette was 101. Huguette would call the Peri home at night to make sure Hadassah would be coming to work the next morning. Hadassah yells to be heard. One of the conversations goes like this:
Hadassah: Madame, I love you.
Huguette: I love you, too. Good night to you.
Hadassah: Have a good night.
Huguette: Have a good night.
Hadassah: Thank you, Madame.
Huguette: Will I see you tomorrow?
Hadassah: Yes, Madame.
Huguette: Thank you.
Hadassah: I love you.
Huguette: I love you, too.
Hadassah: Good night.
Huguette: Good night, Hadassah.
Excerpt length: 5:40 minutes. Testimony of 08/15/2012, pp. 455-457.
Read Hadassah Peri's testimony in full (PDF files):
- Peri deposition, 08/13/2012
- Peri deposition, 08/14/2012
- Peri deposition, 08/15/2012
- Peri deposition, 08/17/2012
The personal assistant, Chris Sattler
Video excerpts from Chris Sattler's testimony:
1. "If you could have spoken with her."
Personal assistant Chris Sattler explains his duties at Huguette's apartments at 907 Fifth Avenue, including setting up antique and new Barbie dolls to photograph them in certain poses at Huguette's direction. Sattler explains to the attorney that one can easily get the wrong impression about the Barbie dolls or about her love of Smurfs cartoons. Sattler explains that Huguette loved many kinds of dolls, from expensive antique French dolls to Barbie dolls. He laments, "I just don't like -- there's the inference that somehow that, because she liked these Barbie dolls, there was something wrong with her. If you could have spoken with her, you wouldn't think that. ... Nobody complains about Jay Leno owning 350 automobiles...." The attorney moves on in the questioning.
Excerpt length: 6:25 minutes. Testimony of 08/23/2012, pp. 237-243.
2. "How many dolls do I have over there?"
Sattler describes Huguette's evident thrill at the bidding in doll auctions, which she always won, even though she had so many dolls at her apartment that she started giving them away to her staff, doctors, and nurses.
Excerpt length: 2:31 minutes. Testimony of 08/23/2012, pp. 185-188.
3. "She would be in heaven."
Sattler describes setting up scenes of Japanese dolls for Huguette, following her instructions, so she could review them in the hospital. Then Huguette would play with them. "She would be in heaven there for a while." Though he said he never quite got the arrangements right. She would say when he made a mistake, "Oh, Chris, that's got nothing to do with it!"
Excerpt length: 1:47 minutes. Testimony of 08/23/2012, pp. 264-266.
4. "It was the best stuff in the world."
Sattler describes how Huguette asked him to bring the jewelry from her safe, pieces from Cartier and other famous jewelers. He took it to the hospital room in a shopping bag, and Huguette surprised him by giving him some of the jewelry. Most of it she gave to her nurse, Hadassah Peri.
Excerpt length: 3:26 minutes. Testimony of 08/23/2012, pp. 201-204.
5. "He got a little excited."
Sattler describes how Huguette gave one of her Stradivarius violins to nurse Hadassah Peri. He describes how Huguette's attorney, Wally Bock, insisted that the gift be handled appropriately.
Excerpt length: 1:58 minutes. Testimony of 08/23/2012, pp. 214-216.
Read Chris Sattler's testimony in full (PDF files):
The goddaughter, Wanda Styka
Video excerpts from Wanda Styka's testimony:
1. "My godmother was very private."
Wanda Styka describes how she learned that her godmother, Huguette Clark, was not living at home. Huguette's best friend, Madame Suzanne Pierre, didn't tell Styka that Huguette was in the hospital. Styka says she chose not to ask for more information, out of respect for her godmother's privacy.
Excerpt length: 1:17 minutes. Testimony of 08/01/2012, pp. 19-20.
2. "You must not live alone."
Styka describes how, after her own mother died, her godmother Huguette told her, "You must not live alone." Huguette had lived alone, aside from minimal staff, from the time of her mother's death in 1963 to 1991, when she moved into the hospital.
Excerpt length: 2:01 minutes. Testimony of 08/01/2012, pp. 28-29.
3. "She was very loving."
Styka describes how her godmother Huguette thanked her very beautifully for a gift. "She was very loving and very animated."
Excerpt length: 2:43 minutes. Testimony of 08/01/2012, pp. 16-18.
4. "I am so proud of you."
Styka describes her last phone conversation with her godmother Huguette, in April 2014, when 97-year-old Huguette called to thank her for gifts. They discussed World War I, World War II, and the Iraq War. Huguette, born in France, mentioned the great loss of life at Normandy. Huguette told her goddaughter, "I am so proud of you."
Excerpt length: 3:56 minutes. Testimony of 08/01/2012, pp. 39-41.
Read Wanda Styka's testimony in full (PDF file):
The attorney, Wallace "Wally" Bock
Video excerpts from Wally Bock's testimony:
1. "A very smart, astute woman."
Attorney Wally Bock says that he believed that his elderly client Huguette Clark was capable of deciding her own financial affairs, including making gifts of tens of millions of dollars. "Mrs. Clark was a very smart, astute woman who made up her own mind, decided what she wanted to do, when she wanted to do it. She was also a very generous woman who gave gifts to people because she wanted to."
Excerpt length: 1:33 minutes. Testimony of 03/23/2012, pp. 386-387.
2. "Oh, I'll pay for it."
Bock said he did worry every time Huguette Clark made a large gift that she was a soft touch for a hard-luck story. "She had a tendency, when people would give her a hard luck story, to make a gift to them." For example, "Somebody would come in and say, 'Oh dear, my sister needs an operation and I can't afford it.' She would say, 'Oh, I'll pay for it.'" Although Bock said that he would urge Huguette to make gifts by putting people into a will, she said she preferred to give gifts while she was alive and could see them enjoy it.
Excerpt length: 4:00 minutes. Testimony of 03/22/2012, pp. 75-78.
3. "That's where she wants to live."
Bock describes he had no question whether his client Huguette Clark lacked the mental capacity to control her own financial affairs. He said he asked his predecessor, Donald Wallace, why Huguette chose to live in a hospital, when she was perfectly healthy, and Wallace merely said that's where she wants to live, with no further explanation.
Excerpt length: 2:12 minutes. Testimony of 03/22/2012, pp. 64-66.
4. "A very strong-willed woman."
Bock rejects the characterization of Huguette by John Morken, attorney for the Clark relatives, as "sort of like a spoiled child." Bock said she "was a very strong-willed woman who did what she wanted, who knew what she was doing, from her point of view." Bock discusses his repeated efforts to discourage Huguette from making large gifts, because of the tax consequences. "With Mrs. Clark, you had to tread very carefully." At that point, after representing the very private Huguette for years, Bock still had not met her.
Excerpt length: 5:25 minutes. Testimony of 07/25/2012, pp. 300-305.
Read Wally Bock's testimony in full (PDF files):
- Bock deposition, 03/22/2012
- Bock deposition, 03/23/2012
- Bock deposition, 07/24/2012
- Bock deposition, 07/25/2012
- Bock deposition, 07/26/2012
- Bock deposition, 08/02/2012
The accountant, Irving Kamsler
Video excerpts from Irving Kamsler's testimony:
1. "She was aware of what she was doing."
Accountant Irving Kamsler says he believed his client Huguette Clark was competent to make her own decisions about gifts. He said he didn't urge that any doctor needed to attest to her competence. "It wasn't my place. And I believed that she was aware of what she was doing, competent. And this is what she wanted to do. She was a very generous person to the individuals that she cared for and about." Besides, he said, she could afford her generosity.
Excerpt length: 2:10 minutes. Testimony of 07/18/2012, pp. 339-341.
2. "I don't intend for my family to get anything."
Kamsler describes the day Huguette finally signed a will -- not her final will, but the earlier one that made only one specific bequest: $5 million more to her nurse. He said Huguette said she would soon sign a will with specific bequests to others, leaving nothing for her relatives. If she had not signed another will, most of her estate would have gone to her family. "She said, I don't intend for my family to get anything."
Excerpt length: 6:37 minutes. Testimony of 07/19/2012, pp. 513-518.
3. "She trusted me implicitly."
Kamsler testifies that he believed his client Huguette Clark trusted him, notwithstanding his guilty plea to a felony charge of attempting to disseminate indecent material to minors, a charge stemming from a police sting operation. "I believe that she trusted me implicitly, because over the course of time she named me as the medical proxy to make health care decisions for her, or to carry out the ones that she expressed. She named me as her general power of attorney and durable power of attorney, together with Mr. Bock, and she named me as co-executor of her will, and left me something in her will."
Excerpt length: 2:23 minutes. Testimony of 07/18/2012, pp. 281-282.
4. "That would be very disastrous."
Kamsler describes his conversations with his client Huguette about her plan to sell paintings by Monet and Cezanne to give $10 million to her best friend, Suzanne Pierre, and $15 million to her daytime nurse, Hadassah Peri. At first Huguette wanted to give away the paintings, but that would have forced Huguette to raise the cash to pay the gift taxes. But then Huguette gave away the full amount of the proceeds from the sale of the paintings, causing a tax problem in any case. Selling assets to pay the gift taxes caused a cascade of capital gains taxes. "As I got to know Mrs. Clark," Kamsler says, "I saw how much she cared for the people around her."
Excerpt length: 10:10 minutes. Testimony of 07/18/2012, pp. 300-308.
Read Irving Kamsler's testimony in full (PDF files):
- Kamsler deposition, 05/08/2012
- Kamsler deposition, 05/09/2012
- Kamsler deposition, 07/17/2012
- Kamsler deposition, 07/18/2012
- Kamsler deposition, 07/19/2012
The Clark estate contest and settlement
After Huguette Clark died in May 2011 at age 104, her last will and testament left nothing to her relatives, "having had minimal contacts with them over the years." Nineteen of those relatives challenged the will in a New York court. These nineteen were descendants of Huguette's half-siblings. To Huguette these were half-grandnieces and grandnephews and great-grandnieces and nephews. Because Huguette had no surviving close relatives, under New York law these relatives would inherit all of her fortune, if they could persuade a court to toss out her will. (Huguette's father's fortune from copper and banking and other enterprises had been divided equally in the 1920s, with identical shares going to his five surviving children, including Huguette and her four half-siblings from her father's first marriage.)
Deposition testimony was taken from 52 witnesses in 2012. The witnesses were questioned primarily by attorneys for Huguette's relatives. The attorney testified for six days, the accountant for five days, the nurse for four days, the personal assistant for two days, and the goddaughter for one day.
As a jury was being selected in September 2013, the relatives' claims were settled. The relatives accepted $34.5 million to end the case. The terms of the settlement are described below, but one effect was that the public did not hear the testimony of witnesses. Now the testimony of five of those witnesses, Huguette's inner circle, is available.
Highlights of the settlement:
- The relatives received $34.5 million tax free. Their attorney fees, $11.5 million, were paid by the estate. And the relatives receive $2.5 million, or half the $5 million repaid by nurse Peri. The relatives also would benefit from continuing litigation by the Clark estate against Huguette's doctors and a nurse.
- The nurse, Hadassah Peri, agreed to accept nothing from the estate, and to pay back $5 million of the $31 million in gifts that Huguette had given to the nurse and her family while Huguette lived. Her attorney's fees, $1.5 million, were paid by the estate.
- The attorney and accountant, Wally Bock and Irving Kamsler, were shut out of being executors or trustees, and gave up their $500,000 bequests. They were relieved of any malpractice claims. The attorney's insurance carrier contributed to the settlement. The law firm representing the attorney, which defended the will, received $11.5 million in fees, plus expenses.
- The largest bequest, Huguette's $85 million oceanfront home in Santa Barbara, California, was left to a new foundation for the arts, the Bellosguardo Foundation, which may someday open up the house for tours. It also received Huguette's doll collection, valued at $1.7 million. And $1.25 million, or one-quarter of the $5 million repaid by nurse Peri. The foundation may receive additional cash, depending on negotiations with the Internal Revenue Service, which the estate is asking to forgive penalties on gift taxes owed. Although the foundation now has a board of directors, it has not yet received the oceanfront property in Santa Barbara.
- The goddaughter, Wanda Styka, received $3.5 million.
- The personal assistant, Chris Sattler, received $500,000.
- The manager of her California property, John Douglas, received two years' pay.
- The manager of her Connecticut property, Anthony Ruggiero, received one year's pay.
- The Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., which oddly opposed the will although it was a beneficiary, received $10 million from the sale of a Claude Monet painting from the "Water Lilies" series. The Corcoran, which now has closed its doors but may nominally still exist, also is to receive $1.25 million, or one-quarter of the $5 million repaid by Peri.
- The hospital where Huguette lived for 20 years, Beth Israel Medical Center, received the $1 million that Huguette left it in the will. A judge in New York recently rejected an attempt by the estate to recover money paid and Huguette's donations to the hospital.
- Her personal physician, Dr. Henry Singman, received $100,000. The judge allowed to continue an effort by the estate to recover additional gifts given to Singman, and to another doctor, Jack Rudick, and to the night nurse, Geraldine Coffey. If successful, money from any gifts recovered would go to the Clark relatives, to the Bellosguardo Foundation, and to the Corcoran Gallery, though most of the Corcoran's assets have been dispersed to George Washington University and the National Gallery of Art.