September 24, 2007
AIKEN, S.C.---The Aiken County courthouse is packed today for the latest hearing on the James Brown estate, and new allegations of fraud were raised.
First, the estate's special administrators now accuse former trustee David Cannon of taking up to $7 million of assets from the estate.
Their allegations of fraud that Mr. Brown's children and wife have claimed for quite some time. And Judge Jack Early made no secret that Cannon has a lot of money to account for, and he has to do it, fast--or else.
It's the day in court that Tomi Rae Hynie Brown and some of Brown's recognized children have waited for; David Cannon squirming. This after receiving findings from the court appointed Special Administrators to Brown's estate, alleging Cannon has mishandled more than seven million dollars.
"This thing has gone exactly the way we predicted it would." says Mrs. Brown's attorney Robert Rosen.
"That's what happens when you tell the truth. You don't have anything to worry about. " adds Mrs. Brown.
Some may call it vindication for Brown's widow, who Cannon has verbally attacked in the past. Now, he is the one under the microscope after allegations the Judge calls troubling are made public in court.
Gardner asked Louis Levenson, attorney for some of Brown's recognized children, "have you been appalled by what you have found?"
Levenson, " I am. I'd like to think it's well concealed but maybe it's not."
Louis Levenson and Mrs. Brown's attorney as well as the Special Administrators say they worked with trustees Buddy Dallas and Alford Bradley to uncover the new allegations against Cannon.
But Mr. Brown's grandson Forlando Brown says he supports David Cannon. "I differ because in my life I have spent so much time with this man. He's a very courageous and honest person."
Forlando's father Terry Brown says he doesn't agree. He told news 12 off camera he can't support someone accused of stealing from James Brown.
They are allegations Judge Early is taking seriously, freezing Cannon's assets for now and ordering him to testify in November.
"David Cannon's day of judgment is coming up on November 15 when he'll have to answer questions under oath." adds Rosen.
Forlando though, is more hopeful that the truth as he sees it--will prevail. "Eventually it will. And we'll find the one who is guilty and we'll move forward like i think this judge is going to do and it will all work out in the end."
Both David Cannon and his attorneys declined to comment. For now, Judge Early says he will retain jurisdiction over Cannon, even though he resigned in August. The allegations also call for Cannon to pay a music royalty company in New York back royalties to the tune of $370,000. Cannon has ten days to pay that. He has 20 days to provide deeds for every property he and his wife own. His assets are frozen unless real estate needs to be sold to cover the $370,000 Cannon also must pay the estate $30,000 in attorney fees for not meeting court ordered deadlines. Cannon is scheduled to be in court to testify on November 15.
In court for the first time was one of Mr. Brown's newly confirmed children, daughter LaRhonda Pettit appeared in court.
45 year old LaRhonda Pettit says DNA test confirmed James Brown is her father. That was in April. Today (September 24) she took her seat in court and met some of her siblings for the first time.
LaRhonda Pettit sits down in an Aiken County courtroom for the first time, not far from where her new siblings have held their perch for nearly a year. But, Mr. Brown's recognized six children had something else LaRhonda never had until now, James Brown, the father.
"The DNA came back in April." says Pettit.
Gardner asks, "What was your reaction to that?"
"I cried. I cried from the beginning. I knew it was but it's like someone was listening to me now." answered Pettit.
The 45-year-old retired flight attendant and school teacher came from Houston to put her hand in the pot for money from her father's estate, not only for herself but also for her two daughters. "My plea is for whatever rights for me as far as my back support he should have done and for me and my kids educational fund."
But the day was far more than a court appearance for Pettit. It was also the chance to see her siblings, including those she'd never met before. "This is my first time meeting Venisha. We look just alike."
Gardner asks, "How did it feel?"
"it was emotional. It was emotional because my mom didn't have any girls and my dad has a ton of sisters for me." expressed Pettit.
Sisters and brothers that Pettit also believes should be required to take a DNA test, just like she had to do. But that ruling has yet to be handed down by Judge Jack Early.
In the meantime, Pettit says she will focus on the positives of her newly confirmed status-a rightful member of the James Brown family.
"This is a ground for us to mold an have my daddy's legend live on." says Pettit.
Gardner, "but you also hope to get what you're do?"
"Yes, of course. Of course."
Meanwhile, Rev. Larry Fryer and his attorney want to make sure the "I Feel Good" Trust that benefits needy children in Georgia and South Carolina is not forgotten. Judge Early ruled that Georgia's attorney general and South Carolina's attorney general can intervene on behalf of the charity. South Carolina's representative from their attorney general's office told News 12 that if Cannon is found to have mishandled money that would have directly benefited the trust's beneficiary's, possible action would be taken against Cannon by the attorney general's office in both states.
It has been a long road to this point since the Godfather of Soul's death last Christmas day.
It began on January 11th, when Brown's will was read, naming the trustees to his estate and his six adult children his heirs. But the will was written and signed before the birth of Tomi Rae Hynie Brown's son James Brown, Jr.
Later that month Levenson, the attorney for the adult children, filed a petition to have the trustees removed and an inventory done of the estate.
In February, Tomi Rae filed her own petition disputing the will, stating that as his wife, she is entitled to half of the estate.
Later that month, the family was back in court to request DNA samples from Brown's body to check the paternity of James Brown, Jr. and others who claimed to be his children. The samples were taken in early March.
Aiken County Judge Jack Early agreed with Brown's children and appointed two special administrators to oversee the trustees, also in March.
In April, Early appointed a guardian ad litem to represent James Brown, Jr. in court.
In June, Levenson was granted permission from the court to look into $20 million that was said to be missing from the estate. At that time, everyone involved was given access to documents involving the estate.
In August, DNA samples proved Brown fathered at least two other children.
And most recently, in August, one of the trustees, David Cannon, resigned as trustee and co-executor of the will and turned over a check to the estate for $350,000.
So far, no paternity test has been ordered for James Brown, Jr., and no ruling has been made on whether Tomi Rae's marriage to Brown was legal.