×

Prince’s Vault Suffered From ‘Water Damage, Mold, Degradation,’ at Paisley Park, Court Documents Say

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compound in Minnesota; for improperly defending a $31 million recorded-music deal with Universal Music Group that was rescinded; and essentially for being insufficiently familiar with Prince’s music and business to be a suitable representative.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 That deal has since been rescinded without a lawsuit; McMillan, an attorney, represents the three heirs attempting to dismiss Comerica.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.”

McMillan added: “I have no further comment at this time other than to say, the Nelson heirs look forward to a respectful and professional resolution.  False claims asserted by Comerica and/or their advisors will be proven soon.”

More Music

  • Marc Byers

    Execs from Motown, Live Nation, Recording Academy Set to Speak at Culture Creators' Inaugural C2 Summit

    Culture Creators, the organization which recognizes minorities in film, television, music and fashion, is holding its first-ever C2 Summit on Oct. 21 in Washington D.C. Its mission: to engage, mentor, and provide recruitment opportunities to students of color attending historically black colleges and universities. Students were selected from an application process and will participate in [...]

  • Rami Dawod SESAC

    SESAC Toasts Rami Dawod as Pop Songwriter of the Year

    Camila Cabello’s “Never Be The Same” and “Electricity” by Mark Ronson and Silk City featuring Dua Lipa are just a few of the co-writing credits celebrated during an October 16 dinner at Nobu Malibu hosted by SESAC in honor of Rami Dawod. Named Pop Songwriter of the Year by the performance rights organization, Dawod is [...]

  • Luis Fonsi Erika Ender Latin Grammys

    The Second Latin Explosion: How 'Despacito' Ushered in a New Generation of Stars

    Music is an ever-evolving art, and for the Latin Recording Academy, that’s meant riding multiple waves of attention. The most recent arrived with the stratospheric success of “Despacito,” which kicked off a second Latin Explosion with full force in 2017. The Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee hit, later featuring verses by Justin Bieber, made Latin [...]

  • Ricky Martin Celia Cruz Gloria Estefan

    From Idea to Legacy: Latin Grammy Awards Mark 20 Years of Global Recognition

    The idea of creating a separate organization to honor the diversity of Latin music was a discussion that took place for years before it actually happened, but an event driven by one of pop music’s most important crossover artists solidified it. During the 41st Grammy Awards ceremony, a young Ricky Martin was scheduled to perform [...]

  • Taron Egerton Elton John Rocketman Live

    Elton John and Taron Egerton Duet at 'Rocketman' Awards Season Event at the Greek Theatre

    “Rocketman” has officially launched into awards season. Paramount hosted a screening of the film with a live-performance of the score by the Hollywood Symphony Orchestra and a headlining performance by Elton John and the film’s star Taron Egerton. John and Egerton — who is in contention for best actor for his portrayal of the singer [...]

  • BTS 'Good Morning America' TV show,

    BTS Show Love for Lauv and Their Army of Fans in Video for Reworked 'Make It Right'

    Early Friday morning (Oct. 18), BTS gave fans a taste of what their upcoming “comeback” (Korean pop terminology for new music) may be like with a reworked version of “Make It Right.” The Korean boy band collaborated with the American singer-songwriter Lauv, who starts the soulful ballad off with a verse in English. Advocates for [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content