UPDATED: Prince’s estate and Comerica Bank & Trust, the company appointed to manage the late artist’s assets, struck back aggressively against claims of mismanagement by three of the artist’s heirs, according to a battery of documents made public Monday. The heirs, Sharon Nelson, Norrine Nelson and John Nelson, in October made a petition to dismiss Comerica as representative of the estate for reasons including what they claim is an improper and unauthorized decision to move the late artist’s much-vaunted “vault” of unreleased recordings to Los Angeles from his Paisley Park compound in Minnesota; for improperly defending a $31 million recorded-music deal with Universal Music Group that was rescinded; and essentially for being insufficiently familiar with Prince’s music and business to be a suitable representative.
In a series of heavily redacted documents, representatives for Comerica and the estate claim that many items in Prince’s vault were damaged due to neglect and poor storage procedures at Paisley Park; and that the estate’s current entertainment advisor, Troy Carter, headed off a lawsuit from Universal Music Group over disagreements involving the ownership of some recordings in the $31 million recorded-music deal negotiated by the estate’s previous advisers, L. Londell McMillan and Charles Koppelman. That deal has since been rescinded without a lawsuit; McMillan, an attorney, represents the three heirs attempting to dismiss Comerica.
Further documents present long lists of what it says are more than $50 million worth of pirated recordings and merchandise of which Comerica has “significantly reduced the availability”; cite minutes from four different meetings to establish that the heirs were made aware of the plan to move the vault to Los Angeles; list multiple copyrights and trademarks secured by the estate since Prince’s death; and set forth Carter and the Comerica personnel’s qualifications to oversee the estate.
In response, on Tuesday morning Sharon Nelson provided statements to Variety that reads: “Comerica’s desperate response to our Petition to Remove them as temporary Personal Representative failed to address their incompetence and continues a pattern of self-serving excuses to avoid Court orders; they wish to and the heirs and rights to the legacy of our brother Prince. Whether now or soon, their time is up and their service has been harmful. Do not believe what they say because they wish to keep incurring millions and millions of dollars in fees.” (Her statement appears in full below.)
The description of the state of Prince’s vault, which was at the center of the $31 million deal with UMG, is unflattering. “In March 2017, the Personal Representative began the inventory process on-site at Paisley Park,” the document reads. “During the inventory process, the Personal Representative discovered several circumstances that caused it concern regarding the safety and longevity of the Estate’s assets at Paisley Park.” The first three items are redacted, but the fourth and fifth read: “None of the spaces being used for storage … have climate control systems sufficient to preserve audio and video material. During its inventory, the Personal Representative discovered several indications of damage and degradation due to poor humidity and temperature controls. It encountered cardboard boxes that were adhered to shelves and had to be peeled off, mold and water damage on the materials, rusting film canisters, degrading film that smelled of vinegar (a sign of acetate degradation), and evidence of water intrusion on walls and ceilings in the vault and elsewhere. … [additionally], Paisley Park is now a museum and open to the public, further heightening security concerns.
“Based on these deficiencies in the security and the storage conditions generally at Paisley Park,” the document reads, “the Personal Representative concluded that it was in the best interest of the Estate to store the Decedent’s irreplaceable audio and video assets elsewhere” and chose Iron Mountain’s Los Angeles facility for its security and ability to store the materials in a climate controlled environment, and also in a location that “permits the Estate to preview content for its entertainment partners with greater convenience and less expense.”
Brian Wolfe, manager of Comerica’s estate administration department, noted, “It was apparent that there had not been an organization system in place for storing the assets, as they were not arranged by chronology or in any other discernible order, nor was there any catalog system to account for all of the assets.” He stated that approximately 90% of the vault has been inventoried.
In his statement, Troy Carter says, “The duties I fulfill for the Estate include reviewing and analyzing synchronization license request, managing the Estate’s relationships with record labels, UMPG, Bravado, and other entertainment partners, managing public relations for the Estate, assisting with developing and implementing an intellectual property strategy, assisting with litigation and settlement discussions, specific project-based work (i.e., [REDACTED]), vetting, evaluating, and negotiating entertainment opportunities, leading weekly status calls interspersed with daily emails with Comerica, and developing and implementing the overall entertainment strategy for the Estate. I devote daily attention to managing the entertainment assets of the Estate.”
He then confirms reports that UMG was on the verge of suing the estate for misrepresenting its assets in the since-rescinded $31 million recorded-music deal.
“After I was retained by the Estate, I implemented a three-prong ‘stabilize, organize, and monetize’ strategy to protect and monetize the Estate’s entertainment assets,” he continues. “Specifically, when I was retained, UMG was poised to start a lawsuit against the Estate, Bremer Trust and its entertainment advisors for fraudulent inducement. Based on my longstanding relationship with key executives at UMG, I was able to avoid litigation and assist with the negotiation of an orderly rescission agreement,” which was completed over the summer.
A rep for UMG had not responded to Variety’s request for comment at press time.
Andre Bruce, vice president of and manager of Comerica’s Unique Assets department, asserted that the bank has “reviewed and acted upon more than 140 licensing requests” and sends them to Carter on a “weekly or more frequent basis,” and a different bank officer asserted that more than 120 new trademark applications have been filed worldwide since February 2017, because “In terms of intellectual property protections, Prince had numerous copyright registrations in place during his lifetime, but had filed fewer trademark applications for the marks he used. Those that had been filed did not necessarily cover potential licensing opportunities that have arisen or may arise since his passing.”
The bank’s lawyers said that it hopes to have positive relations with all of the heirs, but “Unfortunately, rather than attempting to work cooperatively with the personal representative to address any concerns, the Nelsons have resorted to filing a petition replete with objectively false statements and baseless personal attacks in a misguided attempt to remove the personal representative.
“The Nelsons are certainly entitled to their own opinions, but they are not entitled to their own facts.”
Nelson’s response says in part, “Despite all their costs, Comerica and their advisors do not know Prince 101 and music estate business. This is not a “learn on the fly” project and this estate is not like managing a new artist either. Paisley Park housed the vault for over 40 years and any needs to repair it should have been a priority. Comerica is a bank without the proper expertise and unwilling to take proper advice. There are other banks more qualified and we wish to work with them. We will not tolerate incompetence, waste, mismanagement, lack of communication or disrespect. We may be elders but we are very much WOKE. We look forward to presenting the case to the Judge later this month.”