Earlier this week, a press release was blasted to Hollywood publications with the salacious headline: “Breaking News: TV Producer Aaron Kaplan Sued For Invasion Of Privacy.”
In the post-#MeToo era, it was designed to grab journalists’ attention as the subject is one of the top TV producers in town. The lawsuit was in response to a Petition for Instruction filed by Aaron Kaplan in February, that lays out alleged attempts by Elizabeth M. Kaplan, widow of Kaplan’s late older brother, successful entrepreneur Joe Kaplan, to remove Aaron Kaplan as executor of his brother’s will and trustee of the trust, which includes Elizabeth Kaplan, her son with Joe, and Joe’s two adult children from a previous marriage.
In her lawsuit, which does not mention the petition, Elizabeth Kaplan alleges that Aaron Kaplan, upon advice of counsel, secretly set up two hidden audio-video recording devices in one of the closets in her master bedroom, one of which was aimed in a way that would allow the device to record her while she was in various stages of undress.
The lawsuit came more than a month after a legal petition was filed by Aaron Kaplan on behalf of the Joe Kaplan Living Trust, in which he asked a judge to intervene after Elizabeth Kaplan< “has attempted to take and has taken assets for herself” in excess of $1.5 million and “has demanded that the Trustee agree to modify Joe’s Trust to her benefit”. When Elizabeth Kaplan was refuted, according to the petition “she hired a new attorney who threatened the Trustee with a lawsuit that he warned would be damaging to the Trustee’s career. Specifically, Elizabeth’s attorney threatened to publish false allegations that the cameras were intended to capture footage of Elizabeth in her private dressing area, scantily clad, unless the Trustee acquiesced to Elizabeth’s demands.”
Elizabeth Kaplan’s lawsuit includes diagrams that allegedly show one of the cameras, installed in Joe Kaplan’s closet, was angled in a way that it covers a hallway and her closet across the hall.
“The allegations are not true,” the petition states. “The cameras were located in Joe’s closet, and no such recording occurred. What the cameras did catch, however, was Elizabeth stealing Trust assets.”
In working on this story, I was provided access to the video recorded by the two cameras, with the entire footage limited to the inside of Joe Kaplan’s closet. One of the cameras was focused on the safe whose existence is not revealed in Elizabeth Kaplan’s filing.
Per the petition, “Elizabeth’s attorneys have viewed the entirety of the footage and are well aware that the only indecencies captured by the motion-activated cameras were Elizabeth’s theft of inheritance meant for Joe’s children and heartless desecration of her late husband’s memory.”
Here is the sequence of events that led to the dispute, as revealed in Kaplan’s legal petition and corroborated by Kaplan and his attorneys.
Joe Kaplan died suddenly in July 2018 while on vacation in Bermuda with Elizabeth Kaplan.
In Joe Kaplan’s will, Aaron was named trustee of the estate, estimated to be in the tens of millions of dollars at the time of his death. Aaron Kaplan himself is not a beneficiary and has not charged the estate a fee for his trustee services. Elizabeth Kaplan, who had a prenup, is entitled to more than $5 million.
Per the petition, Joe and Elizabeth Kaplan’s 10-year marriage was a “highly volatile” one, marked by gambling and excess. When he died, Joe Kaplan left $15 million in gambling debts, most of which Aaron Kaplan has been able to wipe out to the benefit of his brother’s children – as well as his widow.
Immediately following Joe Kaplan’s passing, Elizabeth Kaplan was detained by Bermuda police while investigating Kaplan’s death.
During that time, Aaron Kaplan was alerted that there had been people, believed to be friends of Elizabeth Kaplan, coming to the house in Malibu that Joe Kaplan and Elizabeth Kaplan had shared, one of whom had spent hours at the property.
Kaplan and his adult niece and nephew went to the house, which belongs to the trust, to find art from the wall missing and no cash despite the fact that Joe Kaplan was known for keeping hundreds of thousands of dollars of cash around the house at all times. Also allegedly gone was the couple’s travel money, believed to be in the tens of thousands of dollars.
Since all money belonged to the trust (Elizabeth Kaplan is entitled to personal property), Aaron Kaplan raised his concerns with his late brother’s attorney, bringing up the fact that Joe Kaplan kept a wall safe in his master bedroom closet. As revealed in the petition, stressing Kaplan’s obligations to the estate, the lawyer advised him to have cameras installed in the closet, and a letter was sent to Elizabeth Kaplan, instructing her not to go into Joe Kaplan’s closet, notifying her that everything in Joe’s name belonged to the trust and repeatedly warning her not to attempt to open the safe located in Joe’s closet.
Two cameras were installed and operated by a third party. They were motion-activated, only recording when someone entered Joe Kaplan’s closet, covering the area in front of the safe and the back of the closet. The footage was curated by the outside company and sent to Kaplan’s female assistant who would review it with Kaplan.
According to the petition, the cameras recorded Elizabeth Kaplan bringing in a locksmith to try and break the safe as well as Elizabeth Kaplan, accompanied by her mother, rummaging through her late husband’s clothes looking for money – she found $10,000, which she took– while on the phone with her father and uncle, and disparaging her late husband.
The cameras were discovered by Elizabeth Kaplan and her mother and, according to Aaron Kaplan’s petition, their existence was later used in an extortion attempt, with Elizabeth Kaplan’s attorney threatening to go public and file a lawsuit if the will is not changed and Kaplan does not step down from his role as trustee, something he refused to do.
“This lawsuit is in response to a Petition for Instruction filed by Aaron Kaplan, as trustee of his brother’s Living Trust, to stop Elizabeth from continuing to embezzle from the Trust,” Sanford Michelman and Howard Weitzman, counsel for the Trustee, said in a statement. “We continue to be disappointed in Elizabeth’s and her lawyer’s desire to sensationalize the death of Aaron’s brother and her ex-husband with a press release and lawsuit designed to change the terms of, and get more money from, the Trust created to protect Joe’s three children. Elizabeth’s claim of a camera angled towards her personal space is not true. Rather, the Trust’s attorney, and not Aaron, instructed that cameras be placed in Joe’s locked closet out of concern that Elizabeth would try and wrongfully misappropriate trust assets. As it turned out, the camera caught Elizabeth doing just that, and as such, her fictional allegations will be conclusively demonstrated as silly and meritless. As trustee, Aaron is focused only on protecting the Trust for the benefit of all of its beneficiaries as his brother wished, and he will not succumb to extortionist tactics.”