Ron Burkle's divorce from his estranged wife of 28 years offers a glimpse into the personal lifestyle of one of L.A.'s wealthiest businessmen.
Janet Burkle's request for $232,800 in monthly spousal and child support is one piece of a complex divorce proceeding in which she is seeking to uproot a post-marital agreement the couple signed in 1997. The financial filings detail a life of extravagant vacations, a private jet and helicopter, floor seats for Lakers games, parties running into the tens of thousands of dollars and several multimillion-dollar estates.
"For the vast majority of our marriage the last 20 of our 28-year marriage, my husband and I lived among the most lavish of American lifestyles," she said in a September 2003 court declaration.
In court papers, Ron Burkle, whose net worth was estimated last year by the Business Journal to be $1.9 billion, says his wife has embellished the life they led as a married couple.
Accountants for each side have submitted detailed lists of estimated monthly expenses. Most of the filings occurred soon after Janet Burkle filed for divorce in June 2003.
Under the post-marital agreement, which waives spousal support, she is entitled to half the marital assets, or $30 million. But because she contends the agreement is invalid, she says the spousal support waiver should be lifted. The support issue was put on hold last year as both sides argued about the validity of the agreement. She has appealed the decision of a private judge who ruled against her last month.
Initially, Janet Burkle had sought $296,500 in monthly expenses, based on her estimate that the family spent more than $1.4 million per month, according to court documents filed in September 2003.
In court papers, Janet Burkle's accountants, who admitted they had access to "extremely limited financial documents," said her initial request included support for their young son. In response, Ron Burkle's accountants disputed many of his wife's claims and recalculated her monthly expenses, including costs for their son, with their estimate of $73,000, according to court papers.
Three months later, her accountants lowered her request to $232,800 per month.
"For temporary support purposes, Janet Burkle is seeking only enough spousal and child support to maintain a substantially less lavish lifestyle than she enjoyed during her marriage," her accountants stated in court papers.
That lifestyle included six homes most notably the five-acre Green Acres estate that was once part of a 20-acre compound owned by the late silent film star Harold Lloyd. They gave millions of dollars on behalf of Democratic candidates and other causes, including a pledge of several million dollars to the Walt Disney Concert Hall and a $2 million pledge to the Smithsonian Institution.
But in assessing specific assets, court documents reveal significantly differing accounts from the couple, as well as their accountants.
Recalling the five years she says she lived at Green Acres, Janet Burkle claims that the Beverly Hills property had eight bedrooms, 13 bathrooms, a pool, a private screening room, wine cellars and underground tunnels, as well as a staff of three butlers, three maids, three security personnel and seven groundskeepers.
In court papers, Ron Burkle says the mansion has no wine cellar or private screening room. "I do not even have one butler, let alone three butlers, at Green Acres, nor at any other residence, nor do I have three maids, three security guards and seven groundskeepers," he said. "I do have a staff that comes in regularly to clean the house but these individuals do not wait on me or any member of the family or guests."
In the revised spousal request, submitted after Ron Burkle's response, her accountants restated their description of what they originally called a wine cellar. "Janet was referring to a basement room accessible through tunnels underneath the residence, with six to eight racks in this room that were built specifically to hold wine bottles," her accountants said in court papers. "We apologize for the mischaracterization of the room dedicated to the storage of wine as a 'wine cellar.'"
They also apologized for using the term "screening room," even though the room has a wet bar, popcorn machine, and "red velvet drapes that open and close similar to those in a conventional theater," court papers say.
Vacations to Greece
Apart from Green Acres, she says the family would travel by helicopter to a La Jolla estate, purchased in the late 1990s for $17 million. Ron Burkle says the residence was occupied by the family once a year, but that it was used primarily as a business property for hosting office retreats.
In addition to the six homes, Janet Burkle speaks of a Boeing 757 jet, as well as several other airplanes and helicopters that were "available and utilized not only for the conduct of my husband's business activities but, routinely, to transport our family," court papers say.
Ron Burkle says the Boeing jet is owned by Yucaipa Cos., the investment firm of which he is majority owner, and that his Sikorsky helicopter crashed in July 2001, court papers say.
In her initial request, she describes annual vacations that included cruises to Greece with billionaire Eli Broad, in which they stayed in "suites in first class high-end 'five star' hotels," she says. That amount of travel costs over $39,000 per month for her and her son, she claims.
He says in court papers that they took only two vacations a year and that many of the family's trips were as guests of friends. His accountants had recommended reducing her vacation request by two-thirds, court papers say.
Closer to home, she says they had "pool circle" seats at the Hollywood Bowl, plus access to floor seats and a 12-seat skybox year-round at Staples Center. She has requested that they split the tickets or he pays her about $46,500 per month, $41,000 for Staples alone.
He says she rarely used those tickets, which are owned by a Yucaipa fund for business purposes, court papers say. In her revised request, Janet Burkle offered to lower his monthly payment for Staples to $12,000, according to court papers.
Another conflict involves entertaining. Initially, she requested about $23,800 a month in movie premieres, birthday parties for their son, and other parties. This is based on the $100,000 events that the Burkles hosted, which included carnival equipment and Spago catering. She later reduced her request for party expenses by half after acknowledging that many of the events were paid for by charitable groups.
His accountants recommended eliminating all but $667 per month in movie premieres.
Among other expenses detailed in her initial request, Janet Burkle sought $9,853 in monthly clothing costs for her and her son. She claims she would spend $15,000 at a time at Barneys, and that her husband had hand-tailored suits and a designer who organized and created his wardrobe.
"I needed business attire (generally Armani) for our various functions (at least once or twice a week), gowns for black tie functions several times a year, many cocktail dresses, 'lunch' dresses, and attire suitable for garden parties," she said in court papers.
Ron Burkle did not challenge her request for clothing expenses but said he does not have a designer. He also disputed a separate claim she made that he spends $50,000 per month on clothes. "In fact, on average, I spend less than $3,000 per month. I dress primarily in jeans and T-shirts," he said in court papers.
The financial support issue is not expected to resume until other issues in the case, such as sealing orders, have been resolved. The next public hearing is set for Feb. 18.
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