- By Alexandra Clough Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
A boiling feud among family members of one of Palm Beach County’s most prominent developers has erupted into two lawsuits: One over the multimillion dollar family trust, and another filed this week alleging sexual abuse by the family patriarch.
In the most recent action, which was filed on Monday, the youngest daughter of real estate developer E. Llwyd Ecclestone, Jr., sued him alleging he sexually molested her when she was a child. The explosive allegations by Wendy Walker Mendelsohn and her husband, Joshua, were made in an amended complaint filed July 2 in Palm Beach County Circuit Court.
Ecclestone, through his attorney, fired back a scathing denial, calling the complaint a “lie.” In a statement, he said the “vile” allegations were an attempt to force him to pay Mendelsohn and her husband an “exorbitant amount of money.”
Mendelsohn’s allegations follow a separate lawsuit filed by her just four months ago against her siblings and non-family trustees, including lawyer and former University of Florida President Marshall Criser, and real estate developer John Temple. The lawsuit alleges that assets of at least $15 million promised to Wendy were improperly put into Ecclestone’s wife’s name. The lawsuit has spawned a separate, major trust legal battle in Palm Beach County Circuit Court.
James Pressly, an attorney for Criser and Temple, said the allegations against his clients in the trust case have no merit.
Ecclestone, a business leader and power broker, has been a driving force in Palm Beach County’s development for 50 years. He’s known for building north county residential communities PGA National Resort & Spa, Ibis Golf and Country Club, Old Port Cove and Lost Tree Village. He also built the Forum office buildings in West Palm Beach. He lobbied to get the Palm Beach County Convention Center built and is a founding board member of the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts.
Ecclestone, who lives in an oceanfront Palm Beach mansionwith his wife, Diana, also is a well-known philanthropist and volunteer. He serves on the board of the Palm Beach Police Foundation and on the town of Palm Beach Shore Protection Board.
The allegations in the legal fight over the family’s trust pale against the ones in the action filed on Monday.
In her 13-page lawsuit, Wendy Mendelsohn alleged that when she was 10 years old, she recalls Ecclestone inappropriately embracing and kissing her.
In her complaint, Mendelsohn said she recalled the alleged behavior by her father as part of her recovery from abuse she said she suffered at about the same age by her brother, E. Llwyd Ecclestone III, who is six years older than her.
In a statement provided by his lawyer, Ecclestone denied the allegations.
“The lawsuit brought against me by my daughter, Wendy, and her husband, Josh Mendelsohn, is a complete lie designed to intimidate my wife and me. They have concocted vile, false and disgusting allegations against me, in a malicious attempt to force me to pay them an exorbitant amount of money.
“I will not be pressured into paying them to stop these lies, and I will not be blackmailed,” Eccelstone’s statement continued. “These false allegations will soon be exposed for what they are — cynical lies told purely for financial gain.”
In her lawsuit, Mendelsohn said her father permitted “and possibly knowingly tolerated or encouraged” his son to engage in sexual battery and molestation.
Mendelsohn’s alleged abuse by her brother started when she was 10 and lasted for about two years, the complaint said. The lawsuit claims Mendelsohn as an adult confronted her brother about the sexual battery and he admitted what he did.
Michael Salnick, a lawyer for Ecclestone III, said his client “absolutely denies” the allegations in Mendelsohn’s complaint.
Mendelsohn said she was encouraged by mental health professionals to disclose the alleged behavior of her brother to her father, the lawsuit said.
But Ecclestone, upon whom Mendelsohn said she is emotionally and financially dependent, did not respond sympathetically, the lawsuit said.
The complaint said Ecclestone grew tired of Mendelsohn’s efforts to discuss her alleged abuse with family members, leading him to isolate her from the rest of the family. Wendy and Joshua Mendelsohn have been married for 21 years and have three children.
Wendy Mendelsohn is the youngest daughter of Ecclestone’s four children.
Ecclestone later told Wendy Mendelsohn if she were willing to stop talking about the alleged sexual abuse by her brother, and sign a letter of confidentiality regarding it, he would allow her and her family back into the family’s good graces, the lawsuit said.
The trust lawsuit filed in February said after Mendelsohn’s claims were brought to Ecclestone’s attention, “assets previously promised to Wendy were put into Diana’s name.”
The 13-page lawsuit filed on Monday expands on a 2017 lawsuit filed by Joshua Mendelsohn. In that 2017 complaint, Mendelsohn vaguely alleged Ecclestone had engaged in “cruel and outrageous behavior” toward Wendy.
That lawsuit also alleged that Ecclestone said in front of others that Josh should have never married Wendy “because of events that occurred when Wendy was a child less than 12 years old…..”
In October, a judge granted Ecclestone’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit, but the judge allowed the case to be refiled.
The amended complaint, and more detailed allegations, were filed on Monday.
Rod Coleman, Wendy Mendelsohn’s lawyer, said she is disclosing the alleged events now because of the way Ecclestone has treated her.
Although Mendelsohn confronted her father about the allegations prior to the #MeToo movement, “it has probably empowered her to come out of the shadows,” Coleman said.
Download: PDF of the lawsuit with all the details