Hearst CEO Sues His Mommy

Exclusive: Esquire's owner isn't playing nice with his 84-year-old Florida retiree mother

Victor Ganzi has done well for himself, so why is he suing his mom?

The lawyer is president and CEO of the Hearst Corporation, which is headquartered in the zigzag-shaped Hearst Tower on West 57th Street and owns magazines ( Esquire, Cosmopolitan), newspapers (the San Francisco Chronicle, the Albany Times Union) and, with Disney, several television networks (ESPN, Lifetime).

If Ganzi isn't quite the modern equivalent of the company's media-tycoon founder, William Randolph Hearst, he's still come a long way from the days when his dad, Walter Ganzi, was a humble bartender at the Palm, the family's Italian restaurant on Second Avenue.

Walter's father, John Ganzi, co-founded the restaurant in 1926, and Walter went on to manage the Palm as it became one of the most prestigious steakhouses in the country (Walter died of a heart attack in 1994). Today, his four sons are doing quite well. Walter Jr. now runs the Palm empire, which extends from Denver to Miami. John Ganzi is a banker, and Frederick Ganzi is a doctor. And Victor runs his media empire from Hearst Tower, no doubt grateful for his dad's way with steaks.

It's his mother, however, that's giving him heartburn.

Gertrude Ganzi, 84, lives in a condominium in Hallandale Beach, Florida, about 15 miles north of Miami, with her 59-year-old second husband, Daniel Vola, who was once her driver. Vola used to chauffeur Gert around her Long Island neighborhood in a Town Car.

After her 50-year marriage to Walt Ganzi, Gert says she was lonely. Vola, she says, breathed life back into her existence.

"People ask about the age difference all the time, and I tell them that is none of their damn business," she tells the Voice. "Dan is a sweet guy. I'm lucky—I've had two good husbands. I'm very lucky."

But during the 10 years that they courted before finally marrying in 2005, Gert says her sons repeatedly expressed their dislike for Vola.

The family feud escalated after the 2004 season of hurricanes that battered Florida and Gert's condo. She asked for extra money from her trust account to fix water and wind damage, and she and Vola also decided to move into a larger, nicer condo than the aging one she and Walter had bought in 1982.

But Victor Ganzi, administrator of the trust, refused to release the funds. She began suspecting that her sons were raiding her multimillion-dollar trust, and she hired an attorney, who began sending Victor and his brothers letters accusing them of civil theft, as well as other legal notices.

In August 2006, Gert's four sons sued their mother in New York Superior Court in Suffolk County. They asked a judge to declare that they had done nothing wrong in handling their mother's trust. And they contended that Vola had only married their mother for her money.

"Dan's not that kind of person," Gert says. Last month, Gert filed her own lawsuit against her four sons, demanding control of her own funds and the return of any money they may have taken.

Fredric Zinober of Tampa, one of at least five attorneys working for the Ganzi sons, called Gert's claims baseless and says, "We intend to litigate aggressively." Through another attorney, Victor Ganzi declined to comment.

"I was close to my children all the way down the line," Gert says. "I really, truly don't know what went wrong. . . . Sometimes I think they're jealous."

Gert and Vola did manage to move into the nicer condo after her attorney negotiated the release of some money from her trust fund, but she won't go into any further detail about her finances.

On a recent sunny day in Hallandale Beach, Vola steered the couple's silver Mercedes SUV as they showed a reporter the neighborhood and the new condo. Afterward, the couple was going out for a bite to eat.

But not at the Palm. Although family members are supposed to eat for free, the last time Gert and Vola visited the chain's Miami restaurant, she says the manager told them that Walter Jr. wanted them arrested if they didn't pay for their meal.

They haven't been back since.

 
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