A $90 Million Matter of Distrust Pits Billy Joel Against His Ex-Manager
It was a stormy week on the home front for rocker Billy Joel, who was rushed to New York Hospital Sept. 24 after experiencing severe pain en route to catching the Concorde at Kennedy Airport. Stricken as he was about to embark for London to promote a new LP, Storm Front, Joel was reported “in good spirits” after surgery two days later for the removal of kidney stones.
So much for physical trauma. The fiscal drama started on Sept. 25 when Joel’s attorney, Leonard M. Marks, filed a $90 million suit in New York State Supreme Court against Joel’s ex-brother-in-law and former manager, Frank Weber. The piano man alleges that Weber and a group of associates squandered or illegally diverted $30 million of Joel’s money, which the singer would like back, along with $60 million in punitive damages. The fact that Weber is Joel’s onetime close friend and the godfather of his and wife Christie Brinkley’s 3½-year-old daughter, Alexa Ray, has only added to the singer’s “shock and outrage,” says Marks.
Weber has been unavailable for interviews since Joel fired him Aug. 30. His attorney, Daniel A. Gecker, says all the allegations are “inaccurate, erroneous and simply not true.”
Marks says Weber was fired after an audit and investigations by private detectives “revealed major incidents of fraud and dishonest dealings, virtually from the  inception” of Weber’s managerial contract, which gave Weber power of attorney and “total managerial control” over all aspects of Joel’s career.
The suit alleges that Weber stole by arranging millions of dollars in unrepaid loans. It also claims Weber invested Joel’s millions in “worthless” businesses, including horse-breeding farms, oil and gas tax shelters and real estate partnerships owned or controlled by Weber himself. In one instance, Weber allegedly invested Joel’s money in a Richmond, Va., hotel development and made the singer liable for losses. When the concern defaulted on loans, a creditor seized $1,265,699.28 from accounts held by Joel and Brinkley. Gecker, who says “you don’t fire your broker when one or two stocks drop,” insists that Weber’s investments were, “on the whole,” sound.
Weber is also accused of overcharging Joel for music videos produced by a company owned by one of Weber’s relatives and securing loans from Joel’s record label, CBS, by hocking the copyrights to Joel’s most treasured asset—his song writing catalogue.
Gecker says Weber never acted without Joel’s consent. “This whole thing,” he says, “is an effort to avoid paying Frank royalties on the upcoming LP and tour which are due under the management contract. The only grounds upon which the contract can be broken are to claim fraud, hence these accusations.”
Marks, who has represented Eddie Murphy, Bruce Springsteen and the Bee Gees in suits against their former managers, calls Weber’s alleged rip-offs “the worst I’ve ever seen.” Marks believes that Weber, a brother of Joel’s ex-wife and former manager, Elizabeth Weber, may have succumbed to greed. “Often a manager will let the power that comes from associating with a megastar go to his head,” says Marks. “It can lead to all kinds of abuse.”
Gecker says Billy’s new advisers, who include Marks and attorney John Eastman (Paul McCartney’s brother-in-law), “came in late and didn’t understand fully the complexity of Weber’s investments. When all things are added up, Billy Joel will be shown to have benefited greatly from Frank’s management.”
Marks, on the other hand, expects Joel will eventually make a “substantial recovery” of funds.
With a trial at least a year off, Joel will have to wait and see. In the meantime, he may perform his 1986 hit “Matter of Trust,” with a new, ironic twist.