The Family Jewels

In life, Paul Kalmanovitz controlled every business decision related to his $500million brewery/real estate dynasty.He even made detailed plans forthe governance of his estateafter he died. So why is the Kalmanovitz fortune the center of two vituperative

Take Betsie Diamond, for example. She makes the fantastic, unfounded charge that Orsi and the other trustees conspired to murder Mr. Paul.

"They killed him," she says in a phone interview. "Oh yeah, this is murder here. He was fine the night I left [the day before he died]. He wasn't near death and the only reason his health was failing was they were drugging him." She says that Orsi used to make rich milkshakes for Mr. Paul in order to bring on diabetic attacks.

Diamond's allegations of drugs are reiterated by Ron Weibelt, Mr. Paul's yacht captain off and on since the 1960s. "At the time [1986], he was in an out [of consciousness]," he said in court. "He'd ask me what day it is."

Both Weibelt and Diamond are characterized as inveterate liars by the defense. Michael Schwarz refutes all their charges -- drugs, murder, will tampering -- with a blanket statement.

"This stuff is coming from people who are frankly mentally deranged," says Schwarz. "The skipper is obviously a fool. It's all loony tunes. There is not a shred of truth to any of it."

It's in this context that Schwarz lets it be known that Orsi is most likely going to sue Hegseth and Diamond, and maybe even the Sacramento Bee, which published a story in January that contains many of the allegations of wrongdoing against Orsi.

Still, Thomas Hunt, the plaintiffs' attorney, firmly believes the validity of Mr. Paul's last will is open to question. "Mr. Paul had no idea what was in that last will," he says one day during a court recess.

Diamond's and Weibelt's allegations served as the basis for the Schreyacks' lawsuit contesting Lydia's will. Considering the alacrity with which Judge Dufficy threw their case out -- after only two days of opening arguments -- the allegations should be viewed with a fair amount of skepticism, the defense says.

The Schreyacks claimed that in phone conversations, Lydia promised to leave the estate to them -- all of it.

That the couple had been banished from the Kalmanovitz home in 1986 by Mr. Paul for asking for money all the time and that none of these alleged bequests showed up in any of the numerous wills and will codicils Lydia signed throughout her life bothers Siglinde Schreyack not at all. She says her aunt also never fully understood what she was signing.

"She told me, like old people do, 'I signed a lot of papers today,' " Siglinde says in a phone interview. "I'd ask her what she signed, and she'd say, 'I don't know, some papers.' "

In both the family-jewels case and the Schreyacks' will contest, the plaintiffs sought to show that the trustees had isolated Mr. Paul and then Lydia in order to control their decisions and keep the will revisions and other last-minute asset transfers under wraps. They refused to put phone calls from relatives through, plaintiffs allege; and they withheld mail from relatives sent to the elderly couple.

One of the more controversial transfers of Kalmanovitz wealth occurred around the same time that Mr. Paul signed his last will, the one putting all the power in the hands of Orsi, Bitting, and Issleib.

In October 1986, three months before he died, Mr. Paul signed over the deeds to Paradise Cay properties to Orsi and Issleib. No one contests the fact that Mr. Paul always intended to build homes to house his close associates. But, former employees say, he never intended for the two men to own the properties.

"He never gave anything to anyone," Weibelt says. Which isn't entirely true. Mr. Paul's fits of generosity were well-known. He is said to have given away hundreds of big-screen televisions and VCRs in the mid-'80s.

After Mr. Paul died, beneficiaries were treated to a revolving door when it came to Lydia's will. In codicils to Lydia's will written and signed during the late '80s and into the '90s, people were cut in and out of the wills with regularity. Klaus and his two brothers were in, for $100,000 each. Then they were out. Then the Polish relatives were in, again for $100,000 each. And just as quickly, they were out again. Capt. Weibelt and his wife, Evelyn, were in and out, too.

When the will had settled, the trustees made out extravagantly. Bitting got half a million dollars. Issleib got the multimillion-dollar ranch in Palmdale, which the plaintiffs say was previously promised to Guide Dogs for the Blind as a training center. And Orsi cleaned up, too. He got a check in the amount of the ranch, and he was granted the $3.6 million in Lydia's checking account. A codicil also awarded the trustees and their children millions of dollars, furs, jewels, silver, and silverware.

Throughout the family-jewels case the plaintiffs wove a leitmotif about not being concerned with the money.

"This isn't about money," was one of the first things Stanley said to me. "Unfortunately in America you have to attach dollar signs to everything to get people to pay attention. This is about tradition. This is about family, about taking care of generations to come."

« Previous Page
Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help
©2014 SF Weekly, LP, All rights reserved.