Charles Johnson ’54, former chairman of the mutual fund Franklin Resources and the largest single-gift donor in Yale’s history, has been accused of helping to defraud the heir of one of Franklin Resources’ earliest investors of $150 million, The New York Times reported Wednesday afternoon.
A lawsuit filed Wednesday in federal court in San Francisco by Anthony P. Miele III places Johnson at the center of an alleged scheme to conceal shares of Franklin Resources now worth $130 million from Miele. According to the complaint, as reported by The Times, Miele was bestowed with Franklin stock after his father’s death over 40 years ago, worth $16,000 at the time. The complaint alleges that Johnson concealed the shares from Miele. Since then, Miele’s 4,000 Franklin shares have turned into 2,531,250 shares, with a total value of $130 million, plus $20 million in uncashed dividends, according to the Times.
The lawsuit specifically accuses Johnson of breach of fiduciary duty, negligence, fraudulent concealment and negligent prevention of assistance, and makes similar accusations against Franklin Resources. The Times reported that Johnson denied the accusations, though he did cooperate for a limited time with the plaintiff’s inquiry into the stock but then stopped.
“We have not been served with a copy of the filed complaint, and we have no comment at this time,” Head of Corporate Communications for the Americas at Franklin Resources Stacey Coleman said in an email.
Johnson, who retired from Franklin Resources in June 2013, told The Times that he was not aware of the lawsuit but said that he thought the “Mieles are on a fishing expedition for their own negligence.”
In September 2013, Johnson donated $250 million to the University to support the building of two new residential colleges, moving Yale towards its total fundraising goal of $500 million for the project and dramatically accelerating the construction of the colleges. Johnson had previously funded Yale programs such as the Brady-Johnson Program in Grand Strategy and Johnson Center for the Study of American Diplomacy.
University President Peter Salovey said he did not know specifics about the case beyond what had been reported by the media, and that the University has no plans to issue a formal statement regarding the case.
“I have no reason to think the issue would have any bearing on Mr. Johnson’s donation to Yale,” Salovey said.
Johnson took over what became Franklin Resources from his father in 1957 and later took the firm public in 1971 through an initial public offering underwritten by Mayflower Securities Company. Franklin Resources later acquired the asset-management company Winfield & Company, but rapidly declining business pushed Johnson to turn to the owner of Mayflower, Eugene Mulvihill, to seek a loan.
It was then that Mulvihill went to a former Lehigh University classmate, Anthony Miele Jr., the plaintiff’s father, for help securing the loan. The complaint, according to The Times, claims the father agreed to lend Johnson $100,000. The complaint goes on to suggest that “no documentation of that loan appears to exist,” although Johnson claimed it “was documented with a promissory note and listed on the public books and records of Franklin as part of its capital structure.”
The complaint states that 4,000 shares of Franklin stock were subsequently given to Miele’s father as a bonus for providing the loan and that the stock certificate was issued to a trust established for Miele, the plaintiff, who was three years old when his father died suddenly of a heart attack at age 39.
The complaint states that Miele was never informed of the existing trust.
When Johnson said he learned of Miele’s death nearly 20 years later, Johnson delegated the responsibility of making sure the stock was delivered from Miele to Mulvihill, the complaint states. Mulvihill then told Johnson that “he would take care of it.”
It was only in the summer of 2012 that Miele learned of the stock coincidentally from the book, “A Life in Full Sail,” an autobiography published by Anson Beard Jr., a Morgan Stanley executive, The Times, citing the complaint, reported. A particular photograph in the book prompted Johnson to call Beard and ask whether one of the people in the photograph was the plaintiff’s sister, Veronica Miele, who was also Beard’s daughter-in-law. It was then that Johnson said he hoped the Miele children had received the Franklin stock.
Still, The Times reported that Miele alleges that Johnson and others attempted to obstruct Miele’s attempts to claim ownership of the shares bestowed to him by his father.
Despite the allegations, experts suggested that Franklin Resources’ standing, with a market value of roughly $34 billion, will likely remain strong.
“One thing that I can tell you with absolute certainty is that Franklin Resources is an exemplary company with a well-deserved reputation for upholding the highest ethical standards,” said Yale School of Management Professor Jonathan Macey. “It is among the most trusted and respected brands in finance.”
Johnson is estimated to have a net-worth of $6.6 billion.