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Interview with Pat Lalama

Aired May 19, 2003 - 20:50   ET


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: We know families, if you've got one, the big one of your own, you know we fight for a lot of reasons. In the case of the family we're about to meet tonight, there were about 15 billion reasons involved here. As Jeff Flock reports in Chicago, one woman says she just wants her fair share, and about $5 billion extra for the pain and suffering. Here's Jeff Flock.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The British government will seize control of his company and all of its assets, leaving you penniless.


JEFF FLOCK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In the film, "The Little Princess," Liesel Pritzker plays a girl who loses millions. Now she claims her life has imitated her art.

Pritzker, now 19 years old and an heir to a family fortune topping $15 billion, is suing her father, Robert, who she said tried to cut her out of her share of the family money and drained her trust fund.

PROF. ROBERT SITKOFF, NORTHWESTERN UNIVERSITY: Something in the neighborhood of a billion with a "b" dollars transferred out of her trust and the same for her brother Matthew.

FLOCK: Liesel and Matthew are children of Pritzker's second marriage. The Pritzkers, one of the world's richest families, founded and still own the Hyatt Hotel chain. Legendary philanthropists, they funded the Pritzker School of Medicine at the University of Chicago and the Pritzker Legal Research Center at Northwestern.

(on camera): Robert Pritzker admits he took money from the trust, which he administers, and gave it to charity. That he claims he has the legal right to do.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All I'm saying is, I'm ready, you know, for things you don't think I am ready for.

(END VIDEO CLIP) FLOCK (voice-over): Mr. Pritzker, divorced from Liesel's mother, fought bitterly over custody and his daughter's role in "Air Force One," where she again played a daughter, this time to Harrison Ford. She chose to be listed in the credits as Liesel Matthews, after her brother Matthew, who is also suing their father.

SITKOFF: There's no general obligation in the law to treat one's children fairly.

FLOCK: Says trust expert Robert Sitkoff. But if Mr. Pritzker gave Liesel's and Matthew's money away, but not that of the children from his first marriage, it could be a breech of trust. The dispute threatens to force a sale of the Pritzkers' vast holdings, including Hyatt.

No comment from any of the Pritzkers.

"A Little Princess" features an emotional reunion between Pritzker and her film father. In real life, for now at least, that seems unlikely.

I'm Jeff Flock, CNN, in Chicago.


HEMMER: So with that as a background, now you know the basics. The inside details now live in L.A. tonight, Pat Lalama, senior correspondent for the TV show "Celebrity Justice" is here to take us through it. Pat, good evening, thanks for your time tonight.

PAT LALAMA, SENIOR CORRESPONDENT, "CELEBRITY JUSTICE": My pleasure, I'm a fellow Ohioan, I just want to get that in there.

HEMMER: Well, it's good to have you, fellow Buckeye. Good evening again in L.A. Listen, part of the suit wants to get at the records of the grandfather. What's that going to do in this case?

LALAMA: Well, I think you have to trace to back the whole thing back decades ago and find out just exactly how this thing evolved. Keep in mind, these siblings did not see the first papers on this until last March.

And they also claim that this was all part of a Byzantine operation whereby secret operations were dealt with. People sat down and left them out of the deal, and they had no idea. So they had to start from the beginning and probably work their way to the very end. They're basically catching up. And they have that right to.

HEMMER: What about the brother, Matthew? He brings a suit forward. This complicates the situation how in your estimation?

LALAMA: I'm not sure I think it complicates the situation. There might be people who say, oh, well, she's just money hungry and she's trying to rip off her poor father. And she hasn't done anything with her life. But she actually has done plenty with her life. And I think by solidifying the case with her brother, it shows some credibility and some solidarity against the rest of the family. You know, strength in numbers, you might say.

HEMMER: So you're saying Liesel's not hurting, right?

LALAMA: I don't think she's hurting. My understanding is that she does have access to other trusts. But this is the one where she feels completely sliced out of, with a no chance at all to give her side or to offer her side. She was basically left out of the meetings, is what she said. And keep in mind, Bill, I just want to say real quickly, there's a lot of angst between Robert and his ex- wife, Irene.

HEMMER: How so?

LALAMA: It was such an ugly divorce, and the problem is they had legal battles over everything, starting with pet ferrets that he apparently provided for the kids, all the way to whether, as was reported, she could star in a movie and what name she could use. It was very ugly, very vitriolic, and it's very possible some members of the clan say that it was so ugly, this might have been his way to take revenge. On the other side, people say Robert simply wouldn't do that.

HEMMER: Yes, well, we simply can't make this stuff up, can we?

LALAMA: No, we can't.

HEMMER: What about the rest of the family, how are they reacting to this family feud of billions?

LALAMA: You know, this is such a private, private family. The whole hierarchy has always been we stay close-knit, we don't talk to the press, we don't flaunt our wealth, and we maintain our dignity and our integrity, in spite of the millions and billions and millions of billions we have. So they've been reluctant to speak. However, I have to tell you, in doing a little bit of research, there's more squabbling amongst the clan than you think, so there might part of the story they don't want to be heard.

HEMMER: All right, we'll watch it. Pat Lalama, thanks for taking us through tonight, and go Buckeyes, right?

LALAMA: You got it.

HEMMER: We'll talk to you again. Many thanks to you tonight.


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