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Britney Spears fights father’s fee claim, alleging financial misconduct

  • >> Liz Day, The New York Times
    Published: 2022-01-19 19:24:53 BdST

FILE — Supporters of Britney Spears gather outside the Stanley Mosk Courthouse in Los Angeles on Wednesday, July 14, 2021, to protest during a hearing concerning her conservatorship. Jamie Spears, suspended as his daughter’s conservator, wants her to pay his legal costs. A filing by her lawyer outlined accusations against him. (Maggie Shannon/The New York Times)

A lawyer for Britney Spears, in an effort to thwart her father’s demand that she pay his legal bills, claimed in court papers filed on Tuesday that her father and others involved with her conservatorship had committed myriad financial improprieties over several years.

Among the many accusations in the filing was a claim that Spears’ father, James P Spears, paid almost $6 million from her estate to a security firm that somehow obtained private phone records for Britney Spears’ mother and others and obtained GPS “ping data” to track the locations of people close to his daughter.

James Spears, known as Jamie, was in charge of the conservatorship for most of its nearly 14-year existence, until a judge terminated the legal arrangement in November in the wake of public pleas by Britney Spears and news media reports about possible wrongdoing. James Spears, who had been suspended as conservator of his daughter’s estate in September, subsequently requested that his legal fees be paid for by Britney Spears. His lawyer, Alex M Weingarten, charges $1,200 an hour, according to a court filing.

The requests for James Spears’ and other legal fees charged during the conservatorship are expected to be discussed at a Los Angeles court hearing on Wednesday.

In his petition, James Spears’ lawyer argued that the singer’s estate should pay for his legal expenses in order to ensure the conservatorship is closed out properly and because James Spears had engaged in no wrongdoing.

In response, Britney Spears’ lawyer said in the filing that the court should reject James Spears’ demands because “the allegations of misconduct against him are specific, credible and serious, ranging from abuse to conflicts of interest, financial mismanagement and corruption of the conservatorship to implicating state and federal criminal law.”

The lawyer, Mathew S Rosengart, cited several revelations about the handling of the conservatorship that were first reported by The New York Times as well as new findings detailed by Sherine Ebadi, an investigator at Kroll and a former FBI agent retained by Britney Spears’ legal team to investigate James Spears’ management of the estate.

Lawyers for James Spears and Britney Spears did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

A declaration by Ebadi detailed her corroboration of allegations first reported by The Times about how James Spears and the firm Black Box Security monitored Britney Spears’ phone, including her communications with her lawyer, and secretly recorded her in her bedroom.

The declaration by Ebadi in the court filing said that she had interviewed the former Black Box employee Alex Vlasov, and that he described how Black Box allegedly obtained private phone records for Spears’ mother and others to determine if they were speaking to the news media. He also told Ebadi, according to the filing, that Black Box would obtain GPS “ping data” to obtain the locations of certain people, such as former boyfriends, for surveillance.

It was unclear how the security firm might have obtained this information. The declaration notes that these methods are typically available only to law enforcement authorities via a court order.

The declaration also alleges that James Spears asked Black Box to send him his daughter’s “therapy notes” from her iCloud account, despite being aware that he was expressly prohibited from reviewing them without Britney Spears’ permission.

Ebadi noted that Black Box had been paid almost $6 million from Britney Spears’ estate.

Britney Spears’ legal team claimed that “the conservatorship originated from an ethically conflicted relationship,” citing a $40,000 loan first reported by The Times that was made by Tri Star, a business management firm run by James Spears’ friend Louise M Taylor, to him around the time that he applied for the conservatorship. While still indebted to the company, Spears then hired Tri Star to manage his daughter’s estate, a role that netted the firm millions during the conservatorship.

According to the court filing, Kroll’s investigation has identified several instances in which James Spears engaged in financial misconduct, self-dealing and mismanagement as conservator.

The filing claimed Spears engaged in self-dealing as conservator when he sold Britney Spears’ childhood home to himself. It also said James Spears had paid for his living expenses with his daughter’s funds, including close to $9,000 paid to Advanced Multimedia Partners, a business entity owned by James P. Watson III, the husband of James Spears’ daughter Jamie Lynn Spears.

Ebadi also notes that James Spears paid costs of $1.5 million related to upkeep of Britney Spears’ property in Louisiana — two to three times the value of the house — and evaded a question raised by the court as to the “extraordinarily high expenses.” She stated that more than $178,000 of the $1.5 million spent on the Louisiana residence was paid to Advanced Multimedia Partners.

The filing alleges that the estate, at times, paid for improper legal fees for others, including expenses related to Taylor, and an episode involving a domestic violence restraining order filed against James Spears that barred him from contact with Britney Spears’ children.

The court papers state that over the course of the conservatorship, James Spears approved the payment of more than $30 million in fees to dozens of law firms, “including large payments for evidently small matters, as well as significant overlap in work performed.”

The court filings included additional requests for discovery and depositions that Britney Spears’ legal team believes will produce more evidence of misconduct.

Lawyers for Tri Star and Black Box Security did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Previously, a lawyer for Black Box said the firm’s officials “have always conducted themselves within professional, ethical and legal bounds,” and a lawyer for Tri Star said the company “faithfully served the estate.”

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