Article written by KIMBERLY EDDS
THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
for the whole (long) article www.ocregister.com...
Charles “Mask” Lewis Jr. lived life in the fast lane until a late-night encounter with a drunken driver in a speeding Porsche sent his Ferrari
into a Newport Beach light pole. The TapouT co-founder died in the driver's seat.
Lewis, a former San Bernardino sheriff's deputy, didn't leave a will, but he did leave behind two children – the only heirs to a
multimillion-dollar estate that included the largest share in mixed martial arts clothier TapouT, a stable of customized European sports cars and an
assortment of luxury Swiss watches.
TapouT co-founder Charles "Mask" Lewis, killed March 11, 2009 when his Ferrari collided with a Porsche, left behind a fortune initially valued at
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Orange County Public Administrator/Public Guardian John S. Williams moved quickly to take control of Lewis' fortune, which he initially valued at up
to $15 million, arguing that he was better suited to handle the “large, complex estate” than Diane Larson, the mother of Lewis' children. Orange
County Probate Court Judge Gerald G. Johnston agreed in May 2009, turning the estate over to Williams.
“The Public Administrator is forcing itself into this Estate where it is neither needed nor wanted,” Adam Streltzer, an attorney for Larson,
complained in court filings.
Eleven months later, the 4th District Court of Appeal would agree, accusing Williams of overreaching his authority and chastising Johnston for abusing
his discretion. The estate was eventually handed back to Larson.
But by then, it was too late. The public administrator had already agreed to sell TapouT at a price other shareholders would later call “pennies on
the dollar.” It sold Lewis' Bentley and Mercedes-Benz for $58,000 less than their appraised values, and paid $45,000 to Lewis' former business
partners for funeral expenses they promised to provide for free, court records and interviews show.
County lawyers said they were not aware of the funeral offer.
Williams refused to comment for this story, but in a statement sent to The Orange County Register by his attorney, he insisted that “Ms. Larson had
no legal priority to act as administrator because she does not personally inherit from the Estate. … Since Ms. Larson did not have legal priority,
and there were Estate assets that needed to be properly handled, the Public Administrator was under a legal duty to seek appointment.”
The county public administrator settles estates of those who die without a will or someone to take care of their affairs; the public guardian takes
care of the elderly or ill who have no one to care for their affairs. A quirk of county government, Williams is elected the county's public
administrator and then appointed public guardian by the Board of Supervisors. Each year, the agency handles estates valued at more than $38 million.