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The Guardian Angel: Suzan Hughes

Suzan Hughes, The Guardian
Photo courtesy of Suzan Hughes, used with permission

On Sunday, May 21, 2000, Suzan Hughes' life changed forever. She received a phone call from Conrad Lee Klein, husband of presiding Los Angeles Superior Court Justice Joan Dempsey Klein. Conrad informed Suzan that Mark Hughes, the charismatic Founder/Chief Executive Officer of Herbalife International, was dead. Mark was only 41 years old at the time of his sudden death. He was handsome, and incredibly successful. As the pioneer of the infomercial television sales concept, Mark Hughes forged a path across every continent in the world, promoting his vitamin and nutritional products to the global masses. Herbalife was valued at over one billion dollars, and Mark’s success was growing by the day. Mark Hughes owned every room he walked into as the face of global health and wellness, his sudden and untimely death shocked the world.

As if the tragic news of Mark Hughes' death wasn’t devastating enough, The Guardian, Suzan Hughes and her son, The Beneficiary, Alexander Hughes, had no idea what they were in for. The new dictators of Herbalife — AND Trustees of The Mark Hughes Trust, attorney Conrad Lee Klein, Jack Reynolds, and Christopher Pair, immediately took over. Incredibly, after Markʼs death, no one even bothered to write him an obituary. One may question why Conrad Lee Klein, Christopher Pair and Jack Reynolds retained a high powered public relations firm. After all, the only headlines were driven by a smear campaign that was seemingly designed to trash the Hughes family name, and it’s Guardian, Suzan Hughes.

The Guardian was in a state of shock, and she was helpless to counteract the nightmare unfolding before her. Lie after lie about her was strategically placed in the headlines, while an in-depth investigation into Mark Hughes sudden and untimely passing was blatantly ignored. The Guardian was immediately silenced, and closed out of anything that had to do with Mark Hughes. She was banned from bringing Mark’s only child for a visit to his fathers company, the very one she had built alongside of Mark Hughes, for a dozen years. Conrad Lee Klein, Christopher Pair and Jack Reynolds, told The Guardian to forget that Mark ever existed. And as for his son, The Beneficiary, he was told to call them in 20 years. It seemed apparent that Klein, Reynolds and Pair’s plan was to extinguish the existence of Mark, leaving the path wide open for them to step in and take complete control of his legacy, and profit as much they could from it, leaving noting for his only child. Mark Hughes loved his son more than anything in the world and left him the bulk of his fortune. Unfortunately, the people he thought he could trust, Conrad Lee Klein, Christopher Pair, and Jack Reynolds, turned out to be untrustworthy. They forced The Guardian into a brutal court battle in their bid to gain ownership and control of the legacy that she built with Mark Hughes. At the time of his death, Mark Hughes had a vested 53% of controlling ownership in Herbalife stock.

The newly, and self minted Herbalife Board members of Mark’s company, Klein, Pair and Reynolds were also the Trustees of the Mark Hughes Trust, despite the inherent conflict of interest. After immediately placing themselves in charge of Mark Hughes’ empire, Klein, Pair and Reynolds, were too busy enjoying their new, lavish and self appointed executive positions. There wasn’t a chance in hell that Markʼs wishes, for his son take over his company, would ever come to fruition. Conrad Lee Klein, Christopher Pair and Jack Reynolds, forged a David versus Goliath battle of epic proportions against the Guardian, and they financed it freely with her sons inheritance, wasting some $50 Million dollars in legal fees. Klein, Pair and Reynolds goal was to push The Guardian to the breaking point emotionally and financially. For example, when The Guardian tried to recover family heirlooms for her son, Klein, Pair and Reynolds forced her to sue them to recover the items. Their hope was that The Guardian would loose everything she had, and be forced to drop the lawsuit—penniless.

The worst part for The Guardian was coming to terms with the reality there was no support for her son, who at such a young age had just lost his father. The pain and suffering he was going through was devastating —and it was not only blatantly ignored, but stomped on as Klein, Pair and Reynolds pushed him out of anything that had to do with his fatherʼs life. As the years went on, the Trustees continued to pilfer The Beneficiaries inheritance, and after 12 years of misdeeds Justice would finally be served. On March 08, 2013, Superior Court Judge Mitchell L. Beckloff ruled that Conrad Lee Klein substantially breached his fiduciary duty in the management of a property called Tower Grove, and removed him as Trustee.

Tower Grove is the most spectacular piece of land in Los Angeles. Comprised of 157 acres of prime real estate, and on a hilltop in Beverly Hills, the breath-taking and unparalleled property has 365-degree views spanning Santa Monica Bay, to downtown Los Angeles. Now valued at over $200 million dollars, Tower Grove is the Beneficiaries most valuable non-liquid asset. As reported in an August 2014 article in Cal Lawyer, Conrad Lee Klein arranged for the trust to sell property at a staggering discount, a mere $23.75 million, to his friend and co-conspirator Charles “Chip” Dickens. Klein decided that he would use Alex’s trust funds to finance the entire purchase for his friend Chip, including a staggering $12 million dollars for construction. By his own account, Dickens seemed singularly under-qualified to purchase or develop Tower Grove, having no formal education in real estate, property management, or finance, Chip didn’t even have a broker’s license. The Tower Grove deal quickly soured when Dickens defaulted on several of its terms, and eventually filed for bankruptcy protection. Testifying earlier in the removal proceedings, Dickens had joked that his middle name was “Default.” When Klein was asked “Did your due diligence with Mr. Dickens indicate that Mr. Dickens could pay these loans back?” Klein responded, “No. As far as I know, he’s a poor man.” Eight months later Judge Beckloff would quote that testimony in granting Alex Hughes’s petition for removal. Among other findings, the judge faulted the trustees for selling “the single most valuable non-liquid asset essentially owned by the trust” to Dickens, and then sitting “idly by” as the buyer repeatedly defaulted. “The transaction is a vivid illustration of imprudence,” Beckloff stated. (In re the Matter of the Mark Hughes Trust, No. BP063500 (Los Angeles Super. Ct. ruling on petition March 18, 2013)

After 12 years of defending herself against a nasty legal war, The Guardian has emerged the victor, and her efforts have led to the removal of Conrad Lee Klein, Jack Reynolds and Christopher Pair as Trustees of the Mark Hughes Trust. But Klein, Pair and Reynolds gross mismanagement of the fortune Mark Hughes left his only child was not limited to the negligent, unethical and self dealing Tower Grove transaction. A glimpse inside the litigation that led to their demise reveals a complex web of shady deals, unethical business practices and complex tax schemes that bled The Beneficiaries inheritance of hundreds of millions of dollars. Tales of Trustee Christopher Pair’s shoplifting arrest, and multiple sexual harassment suits, Trustee Jack Reynolds questionable and unproven claim that he is Mark Hughes real father, despite the fact that his name is not on Hughes birth certificate, and his ardent refusal to submit to a paternity test. Even Trustee, Conrad Lee Klein, had his wife Justice Joan Dempsey Klein, in his back pocket as leverage in the courtroom.

What became of the $16 million dollar family foundation that Mark and Suzan Hughes founded? Klein, Pair and Reynolds took that too. They wielded their power and forced Mark Hughes most trusted confidant, Samantha Faulkner, who had risen the ranks with Mark at Herballife for over 15 years, to add them to its board. Once Faulker finally gave in, Klein amended the management structure to majority rules and the Trustees immediately ousted her. Faulkner would later sue for sexual assault and battery.

Political Theorist and 4th President of The United States, James Madison, once said “The advancement and diffusion of knowledge is the only guardian of true liberty.” The Guardian, Suzan Hughes, it turns out, is indeed, the sole Guardian of The Mark Hughes Trust, in life, liberty and eventual Justice for all.