May 30, 2024

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A Man Hailed as Cindy Birdsong’s Rescuer Is Accused of Exploiting Her

Just last year, Brad Herman, a longtime behind-the-scenes aide to celebrities, drew praise from the family of Cindy Birdsong, an ailing former member of the Supremes. He was credited with helping to rescue her from what they described as a friend’s undue influence over her care and finances.

But now, Mr. Herman has been named in a petition brought by Ms. Birdsong’s son, who is accusing him in court papers of financial elder abuse and misappropriation of her money.

The son, Charles Hewlett, who has been appointed the conservator of his mother’s affairs, is seeking damages and the return of what his petition describes as missing funds.

The allegations follow months of court proceedings over who should control a conservatorship overseeing the finances and medical decisions of Ms. Birdsong, 84, who was once part of a Motown group that became music royalty.

Today, Ms. Birdsong is not able to communicate and is on a feeding tube after a series of strokes. She has lived at nursing facilities and hospitals since 2021 and a judge ultimately put Mr. Hewlett in charge of her affairs late last year.

“Mr. Herman used his position of trust and confidence to take advantage of Ms. Birdsong’s dependency and exercised care, custody and control over Ms. Birdsong’s property,” argues the petition filed in Los Angeles Superior Court this month by Susan Geffen, a lawyer for Mr. Hewlett.

Mr. Herman defended his handling of Ms. Birdsong’s affairs in an interview on Friday, saying he is “committed to making certain that Ms. Birdsong’s estate receives all that is due.” He said he has an accountant examining Ms. Birdsong’s banking records and that he is “convinced that the accounting will be in order” ahead of a June hearing in the case.

Years ago, Mr. Herman said, he stepped in to help Ms. Birdsong at the request of family members who lived outside of California. He said that Mr. Hewlett at the time did not seem interested in interceding.

“If somebody else was taking care of her I wouldn’t have needed to be asked to help,” he said, later adding that “at the end of the day all that matters is Cindy’s welfare and well-being.”

Ms. Birdsong was a Supreme for nearly a decade during part of the group’s heyday after replacing Florence Ballard in 1967. She performed hits like “You Can’t Hurry Love” and “Come See About Me” alongside Diana Ross and Mary Wilson, living the glamorous life of a Motown star. But her career took a downturn after she was cut from the group in 1976.

Her finances fell apart — which she attributed to a “bad closing deal” with Motown Records — and she largely withdrew from the limelight. She lived much of her later years in what family members described as an increasingly isolated life at a Los Angeles apartment that she shared with Rochelle Lander, a longtime friend with whom she started a Christian ministry.

In interviews last year, Mr. Herman, Ms. Birdsong’s three siblings and a sister-in-law described their efforts to get Ms. Birdsong out of the apartment, where, the siblings said, her health appeared to be deteriorating and Ms. Lander was not sharing information about her well-being.

The siblings signed papers granting Mr. Herman, who they said was recommended by mutual friends, her power of attorney. In 2021, he orchestrated Ms. Birdsong’s removal from the apartment with help from the Los Angeles police and a private paramedic service. With power of attorney, Herman also set up a bank account for Ms. Birdsong that was in both of their names, according to court papers, an arrangement that Ms. Birdsong’s family members said they understood as an attempt to marshal the singer’s finances for her benefit.

(Ms. Lander, who has not agreed to an interview, has in prior settings defended her care. She has not interceded in court proceedings that have followed Ms. Birdsong’s removal.)

Last May, a year and a half after Ms. Birdsong had been relocated to a nursing facility, Mr. Herman applied to be co-conservator of Ms. Birdsong with her brother, Ronald Birdsong.

But a judge in Los Angeles asked county officials to take over after they raised concerns about how her finances had been handled. The county officials pointed to more than $190,000 that they said had been removed from her bank account but did not appear to have been put toward her care at nursing facilities.

The court revoked Mr. Herman’s power of attorney, he dropped his request to be appointed her conservator and a county agency, the Office of the Public Guardian, began to oversee Ms. Birdsong’s affairs temporarily, until Mr. Hewlett was appointed last December.

In recent court hearings, Mr. Herman had increasingly tense interactions with Judge Lee R. Bogdanoff, who ordered him to produce an accounting of Ms. Birdsong’s finances and produce $120,000 that Mr. Herman had said he had in cash and cashier’s checks locked in a safe at home.

In January, when Mr. Herman handed Ms. Birdsong’s son a check for $71,000 in the courtroom, Judge Bogdanoff challenged why the sum was less than what Mr. Herman had earlier reported. In court, Mr. Herman attributed the difference to “offsets and deductions.”

“You’re not entitled to make any offsets and deductions,” Judge Bogdanoff replied. “It’s not your money.”

Although Ms. Birdsong did not retain significant royalty rights, the records indicate she was receiving regular payments — monthly checks between a few hundred dollars and more than $10,000 — from SoundExchange, which distributes payments to musicians.

The petition accuses Mr. Herman of making “significant withdrawals or transfers of cash from Ms. Birdsong’s account that were not used for her care.”

“We were led to believe Brad was keeping the money safe,” said Melody Birdsong, a sister-in-law of Ms. Birdsong’s, in an interview.

Mr. Herman has previously said in interviews that he was at one point responsible for paying Ms. Birdsong’s expenses at the skilled nursing facilities where she had lived. The petition does not fully detail the amount Ms. Birdsong has incurred for her care since her removal from the apartment, but county officials told the court last year that she had an outstanding balance of more than $30,000 at various nursing facilities.

A Hollywood Reporter profile from 2022 described Mr. Herman as someone who had “smoothed out difficulties” for Hollywood elite for decades, describing his client list as having included Frank Sinatra, Johnny Carson and Burt Reynolds, and one of his areas of expertise as navigating the Department of Motor Vehicles.

In recent years, Mr. Herman has been embroiled in a legal dispute with the daughter of one of his former clients, Stan Lee, the Marvel Comics creator. After Mr. Lee died in 2018, Mr. Herman sued Lee’s daughter, J.C. Lee, over allegations that she had made to The Daily Beast about his conduct, including that he sneaked into her father’s home, which he said in court papers was false.

Ms. Lee then filed a defamation lawsuit against Mr. Herman over his accusation on a podcast that she had slammed her father’s head into a chair, a story that she said in court papers was fabricated. In the legal papers she accused Mr. Herman of forging her father’s signature on loan documents — an assertion he called “flat-out made up” in Friday’s interview.

A judge dismissed Mr. Herman’s lawsuit against Ms. Lee and ordered him to pay her lawyer fees, according to court documents. In her defamation case, Ms. Lee received a default judgment last month after Mr. Herman did not appear in court or respond to filings. He was ordered to pay Ms. Lee more than $100,000. In the interview, he said he had not been aware of the recent court actions in the case and that he planned to appeal the decision.

Mr. Herman has said that he took on Ms. Birdsong’s case with her best interests at heart. But he was questioned closely at the hearing in January at which Judge Bogdanoff asked him to explain why he had not turned over money of Ms. Birdsong’s that he said he had. Mr. Herman responded that he had been working in tandem with her family since the beginning.

“Your honor, if I may say so, with respect and with humility, Ms. Birdsong would not be alive were it not for me,” he said, “and I’m proud of that.”

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