Update: A multi-million-dollar lawsuit between an octogenarian Reichmann and his rabbi son has been settled ahead of a trial scheduled to start this week.
The wealthy and reclusive Reichmann family of Toronto is headed into a public trial, beginning Monday, that pits a son against his father and mother, and brother against brother, in a bitter coda to a storied history.
Seven years ago, a judge expressed bafflement that a dispute over money between Abraham Reichmann and his parents, Ralph and Ada, had wound up in court. The essence of Abraham’s allegations is that his parents, and in particular his father, have cut him off from his rightful share of the family’s wealth.
“What exactly caused the unfortunate family rift is not at all clear from the record,” Ontario Superior Court Justice Frank Newbould wrote in 2015, when Abraham asked for temporary financial support while awaiting the outcome of his lawsuit. “This case cries out for settlement.”
Instead, six weeks have now been set aside for a civil trial in front of Ontario Superior Court Justice Cory Gilmore.
The Reichmann family was known as publicity-shy during the heady days of the 1970s, 80s and 90s when its real-estate dynasty, Olympia & York Developments Ltd., was making and losing billions. Now it will air a dispute in which financial and emotional investments appear deeply interwoven. (Olympia & York was founded by Ralph and his brothers Albert and Paul; Paul died in 2013.)
Abraham, an ordained rabbi who has 10 children, is making multiple claims against his father. Some relate to family trusts – one set up by his grandparents, Samuel and Renée Reichmann, for the children and grandchildren, and two others set up by Ralph for Abraham and his family. Abraham alleges that his father mismanaged and misappropriated funds; his father denies the allegations.
Another claim relates to Abraham’s share of a family holding company, Rada Holdings Inc. Still another claim is related to a New Jersey lawsuit involving Ada, Abraham’s mother, which started in 1992 and is still not over, 30 years later.
There is no specified amount sought in Abraham’s lawsuit against his parents. (In 2015, Justice Newbould awarded Abraham a one-time payment of $868,000, much less than he was seeking.)
Ralph, who is nearing 90, brought his brother Albert, who is in his 90s, into the lawsuit as a third party, asserting that because he is a fellow trustee of one of Abraham’s trusts, any liability should be shared; Albert says any liability is Ralph’s alone.
Court documents supply an answer, of sorts, to Justice Newbould’s uncertainty about the roots of the conflict. Ralph says the case is about a “tragic breakdown” in Abraham’s relationship with his parents; his son is punishing him over “personal grievances.” He had generously, he said, given his son “gifts” of up to $40,000 a month for 30 years; he was entitled to stop the giving.
Abraham replies that the “Reichmann family wealth did not originate with Ralph,” but with Ralph’s late father, Samuel, who set up trusts that benefited Ralph, among others; and that it was only when Abraham questioned Ralph’s management of family holdings that “Ralph sought to punish Abraham” by cutting him off the monthly payments in 2014.
The bitterness on both sides is palpable in court documents since 2014 viewed by The Globe and Mail.
Ralph says Abraham never supported himself. “He does not have a university degree or any postsecondary training other than religious schooling.” He added: “For virtually all of his adult life he has relied on Ada and me to provide him with funding to sustain his family.”
When he worked at Olympia Tile International Inc., a family business, Abraham “demanded promotions as he felt the work was beneath him.” He went on to other business ventures, which failed, Ralph said, adding that he paid his son’s debts for the biggest such failure, a high-tech theme park known as Technodome.
He said he had given Abraham a job in 2007 only because Abraham’s wife, Bella, “appealed to Ralph to give Abraham something to keep him busy.” He did so, he said, to build his son’s self-esteem. The job was to oversee a lawsuit Ada had become involved in in New Jersey. But he said that he – Ralph – made all the important decisions in the litigation.
For his part, Abraham said in a pretrial hearing he was surprised that his father was so critical of him when he is imperfect himself. Pointing at Olympic & York’s bankruptcy, which made headlines internationally, he said his father “is not immune from business difficulties.”
And when a doctor testified in a pretrial hearing that Ralph, then in his early 80s, might die from a stroke or a heart attack if forced to testify, Abraham’s lawyers questioned the doctor’s medical expertise. They said Ralph was able to shoulder the stress, as he was still heading a big company, Olympia Tile International Inc. They said he could testify for two hours at a time.
The family’s only public statements on the case came when The Globe contacted them in 2019, as an earlier trial date approached.
“Abraham acknowledges the responsibility to honour one’s parents,” his media spokesman at the time, Bob Pickard, said in a written statement.
That responsibility, he said, led Abraham to seek guidance from a rabbinical court called a Beth Din, which gave him the approval to proceed with the litigation. (The Reichmann family are ultra-Orthodox Jews.) “Abraham respects his parents. He considers the situation to be unfortunate and truly hopes that the litigation will be resolved as soon as possible to allow the family to heal.”
Ralph commented, in a brief written statement to The Globe in 2019: “In the best interests of my family, I have made numerous efforts to reach a settlement with Abraham. Family is most important to me and I am very thankful that my relationship with my brother Albert is closer than ever. I cherish my weekly Friday evening visits to Albert’s home to wish him a Good Sabbath.”
Tom Curry, a lawyer for Abraham, said on Wednesday that the parties are hopeful the dispute will be resolved before the trial begins.
Luis Sarabia, a lawyer for Ralph, said he is not in a position to comment. A lawyer for Albert did not respond to requests for comment this week.
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