Two grandchildren of the legendary Italian-American media mogul and New York City powerbroker Generoso Pope Sr.—the father of the late National Enquirer founder Generoso Pope Jr.—are suing their own brother over alleged corruption and “rampant self-dealing” they claim “would have outraged” the family patriarch.
In a 35-page civil complaint filed Friday in New York State Supreme Court, Marie-Thérèse and Ted Pope accuse David Pope, the well-connected president and CEO of the Generoso Pope Foundation, of “looting” the nonprofit for personal gain as he iced the two of them out. David, according to the pair, paid himself “far above the value of his services,” put his wife and two sons on the foundation payroll “for little to no work,” and managed to blow through at least $28 million of the foundation’s money in a little over a decade.
He also used foundation funds to, among other things, get acting roles for his son, finance his kids’ football teams and cheerleading squads, and get all three children into college, the lawsuit states.
The wider Pope family, in the words of Marie-Thérèse and Ted’s cousin Paul David Pope, is a “made-for-television” saga of a “wealthy and high-profile dynasty torn apart by money and power.” Paul, who is Generoso Jr.’s son, says his father was written out of Generoso’s Sr.’s will, then clawed his way to riches with the Enquirer. When Generoso Jr. died in 1988, he left his own instructions to sell the tabloid rather than give it to Paul, who wanted to continue the legacy.
Now, Marie-Thérèse and Ted have brought their own lawsuit against David “to vindicate their great-grandfather’s aspirations when he founded the Generoso Pope Foundation,” their attorney, Andy Tomback of law firm McLaughlin & Stern, told The Daily Beast on Friday. “It is a tragedy that a direct descendant of a man who funded the Foundation so generously has wrongfully taken almost all of its assets—well in excess of $30 million—and deprived the community of its resources.”
— George Bennett (@gbennettpost) March 9, 2016
David, 54, “has destroyed the foundation and its ability to achieve my great-grandfather’s vision,” Marie-Thérèse told The Daily Beast.
“He has grossly mismanaged and looted the foundation’s funds for his own benefit and self-aggrandizement,” she said. “He has taken tens of millions of dollars. I am doing all in my power to stop him from continuing this illegal activity.”
A separate lawsuit, which Marie-Thérèse and Ted filed last year, alleges David pilfered millions from his grandparents’ trust.
Generoso Sr., father of Enquirer boss and longtime Mafia associate Generoso Jr.—Marie-Thérèse, Ted, and David’s uncle—arrived in New York City in 1906 with $2.50 in his pocket. After becoming a millionaire in the sand and gravel business, Pope bought Il Progresso Italo-Americano, an Italian-language daily, and AM radio station WHOM. A one-time Mussolini supporter who later turned against the Fascist dictator, Pope founded New York’s Columbus Day parade and helped turn the second Monday in October into a national holiday.
In 1947, he established the Generoso Pope Foundation, a charitable organization that has, over the years, supported “well-regarded medical, educational, and cultural institutions,” according to the lawsuit, which lists such grantees as New York University Medical Center, Blythedale Children’s Hospital, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Guggenheim Museum, and Free Arts NYC. Pope served as the foundation’s president until his death in 1950, after which his wife Catherine assumed control. When she died in 1998, their son Anthony took over until his death in 2005. Anthony’s wife Edith then became the foundation’s president, but her tenure was “short lived,” the suit states.
David soon convinced Edith, his grandmother, to step aside and name him president and CEO of the foundation, the filing says.
“Unfortunately, the self-serving course he set for the Foundation would have outraged Generoso,” it says. “In 2007, he pushed Plaintiff Ted Pope out of the Foundation. [David] followed this action by marginalizing Plaintiff Marie Thérèse Pope and their very own mother (who also served as an officer and director), and eventually also improperly removed Plaintiff Marie Thérèse Pope as an officer and director of the Foundation in 2010.”
In addition to allegedly lining his own pockets with the foundation’s money, the two say their brother has lied to state and federal tax authorities and is excluding them from annual foundation meetings, according to the lawsuit.
After David became president, the suit says he began phasing out grants to hospitals and museums and instead started steering them to “organizations in which [he], his immediate family members, and his close friends had a significant financial or other interest.”
One example included in the filing notes that David and his family have lived for many years in the Westchester County village of Tuckahoe, New York. Between 2009 and 2018, Pope gave nearly $800,000 in foundation funds to the Tuckahoe public school system, where his three children attended. He also gave more than $900,000 to the Tuckahoe Tigers Youth Football and Cheerleading squads, which the lawsuit says had the Pope kids on their rosters, while simultaneously serving as the president of a tax-exempt organization called Tuckahoe Tigers Youth Football and Cheerleading Inc.
Pope also gave more than $68,000 to the Lighthouse Youth Theater where one of his kids, AJ, “obtained various acting roles, including leading ones,” the lawsuit states.
David also gave more than $1 million of the foundation’s money to Fairfield University between 2014 and 2020, “the time that the Pope Children applied to the college and attended it,” the suit continues, arguing that such expenditures would make Generoso Pope “cringe.”
Salary is also another hot-button issue for the Popes.
During Anthony Pope’s years as president, he paid himself an annual salary of $60,000, according to the lawsuit. In 2005, when David came in, he immediately jacked up his own salary to $98,000, it alleges. In 2006, David took a salary of $133,335, adding more and more each year until reaching a high water mark in 2016 of $224,750—nearly four times what Anthony was earning.
The following year, the foundation cut David’s salary to $198,193 “after learning that the Foundation, [David], and/or others connected with the Foundation were under criminal investigation,” the lawsuit says. By 2019, the most recent year for which the foundation’s tax returns are publicly available, David’s pay had been reduced to just $58,833, due to the criminal investigation. However, in all, he had been paid $2.36 million for work that largely benefited no one other than himself, according to Marie Thérèse and Ted.
“Even so, [David] did nothing to justify this salary, this salary was excessive, and the salary was far above the value of services [he] provided,” the lawsuit states, noting that “it is debatable whether any of the compensation paid to him by the Foundation was justified.”
Tomback on Friday told The Daily Beast he was not at liberty to provide further details about the supposed criminal investigation.
Elsewhere in their suit, the siblings rake David over the coals for transgression after transgression. There was the Westchester Italian Cultural Center (WICC), which was created by the Generoso Pope Foundation in the early aughts.
Anthony Pope intended to finance the WICC for “a limited time” until it became self-sufficient but, under David’s tutelage, the center got $6.5 million over 10 years, while David allegedly paid himself as much as $225,000 a year as the WICC’s titular director, the suit alleges.
David also paid salaries from the foundation to his wife and two sons, totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars, “for little to no work,” according to the lawsuit.
It was through David’s “willful and reckless misconduct and negligence” that the foundation’s assets dwindled from $32 million in 2006 to $4 million in 2019, the lawsuit continues, pointing out that the total is “likely even less today.” Much of this can be attributed to David’s alleged self-dealing, the suit states, however David also spent more than the foundation took in by an average of $1.8 million annually. Thus, most revenue came from selling off assets, according to the suit.
David had every opportunity to develop a career in his own right, but never did, a source close to the situation told The Daily Beast. What has happened to the foundation his great-grandfather built from scratch is nothing short of a “tragedy,” the source said.
Marie-Thérèse and Ted are now asking a judge to remove David from the foundation, and to bar him from ever working for it again. In an attempt to rebuild the foundation, the two are also asking to be reappointed to their former roles.
David Pope did not respond to multiple requests for comment.