It’s a wonderful life, you have to admit: Sixty-year-old billionaire Paul Allen and his millionaire sister/business partner Jody Allen, 54, own Mercer Island mansions and homes in three countries, sail on more than 700 feet worth of yachts, and soar to far-off locales in their private jets, living what Jody’s ex once described in court papers as “the lifestyle of the rich and famous,” spending millions “with reckless abandon.” Much of it emanates from Vulcan Inc., the powerful Seattle corporation founded by the Allens in 1986 to manage Paul Allen’s business, science, and charitable ventures. They of course include the Portland Trailblazers and the arena they play in, and the Seattle Seahawks and, effectively, the taxpayers’ stadium they play in (as master lease holder, a Vulcan subsidiary receives all proceeds from stadium operation).
As you might have heard, both teams are on a roll—with the Trailblazers off to their best start in decades and the Seahawks generating Super Bowl hopes. That would only further enrich the football franchise whose value has increased fivefold since Paul Allen bought it in 1997 for $200 million. But he didn’t become a $15-billionaire by losing bets, or failing to hedge them. He called himself the taxpayers’ “partner” in building Seattle’s new $600 million (with interest) football stadium, but was able to ante up his $130 million share using other people’s money—income from seat-licensing sales.
As on the gridiron and the hoop courts, the siblings are on a roll in the law courts as well—victory Allen style, at least. When someone sues, flood the zone with attorneys; should they persist, pay them before the media gets curious. That happened to Paul Allen when he was accused of sexually assaulting a business partner some years back, and it happened to him and his sister more recently when they were accused of creating a hostile work environment that allegedly included sexual harassment. Unlike Paul Allen’s Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, who maintains a global profile, the Allens stay closer to the ground, wielding their moneyed power in corporate boardrooms, City Hall, and Olympia while their publicists polish the duo’s sports and charitable images.
As a result, they’ve mostly avoided widespread notoriety from tell-tale lawsuits. The latest were brought against them by ex-members of their Vulcan security team—former combat vets and Navy SEALs included. Ex-FBI agent Kathy Leodler says under oath that she left Vulcan “because I did not want to be an accessory to crimes, and would not continue to work for owners who violated the law.” Of 15 lawsuits, all but two have been recently settled outside the public court record for unrevealed amounts. Paul Allen employed a similar strategy in a lawsuit brought by his Hollywood associate Abbey Phillips. As I reported in 2006, she claimed Allen held her down and fondled her, then later let himself into the room where she slept and attempted to have sex with her. His sister forced her to resign, Phillips claimed, for refusing her brother’s advances. Allen’s attorneys called the claims meritless and news media mistakenly reported the lawsuit was dismissed. In fact, Allen paid Phillips a mystery amount of money to go away.
Levi Pulkkinen at SeattlePI.com did a long takeout in November on the current security-staff settlements, in which attorneys for Paul Allen denied claims that Jody Allen smuggled animal bones out of Africa and Antarctica, even though Vulcan ended up surrendering such remains to the government. My review of King County court records also shows that, in an ongoing case, ex-security manager Jeff Benoit claims his staff was under constant attack for “trivial and inconsequential” lapses, such as failing to open Jody’s car door or not carrying Paul’s books from the house to the car. Benoit swears he was told to falsify team performance records, and that employees were “harassed and penalized because one of the members had refused Jody Allen’s sexual advances,” which she denies.
If Benoit’s case goes to trial as scheduled next month, Jody Allen, and Paul too, could be asked to answer such accusations under oath. But will that happen? In one of the few times Jody has been on the court record, a 2009 divorce, her private life was glaringly exposed (though not reported until now). Brian Patton, her hubby of 21 years, complained she went on one-day “power-shopping” excursions to New York and L.A., with a limo following her down Rodeo Drive. So “compulsive” was her buying that she’d fill “the entire cargo hold on the [private] 737 with her purchases,” Patton said, and maintained a Tukwila warehouse filled with 450 boxes of clothing and valuables.
Yet, though Jody Allen’s annual income was then $2 million and her husband’s $500,000, the court ordered him to pay support for their three children. To the record add, ho hum, another Allen victory.
Journalist and author Rick Anderson writes about crime, money, and politics, which tend to be the same thing.