Two lawsuits have already been filed, and the label’s offices in Woodland Hills were locked after a Superior Court judge barred the rapper’s trustees and business associates from entering the premises. As a result, payments have stopped not only to the artists on Wright’s roster, but also to the six mothers of his seven children. (There are no reports that any has HIV.)
Sources on both sides of the battle believe that the estate could soon be deluged by a slew of paternity suits as well as litigation seeking funds from disgruntled recording artists and producers. They also anticipate that other women who allegedly had recent sexual relations with the rapper may also file claims seeking damages for emotional stress, saying they are worried they might have contracted AIDS from Wright, whose disease was diagnosed in late February.
“It would rip Eric’s heart out if he knew what was going on here,” said Wright’s former manager, Jerry Heller. “It’s sickening to think that his children’s future could go down the drain simply because people are picking over their father’s bones.”
On Monday, a judge consolidated the cases in probate court and appointed a special administrator and accountant to devise a plan to preserve the assets before May 8.
The court administrator will first review allegations posed in a lawsuit filed by former Ruthless employee Mike Klein that questions the legality of Wright’s deathbed marriage to Woods, which took place about March 22 in the intensive care unit of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Woods had known Wright for five years and lived with him for three years.
Klein’s claim also challenges the validity of a trust document that the rapper signed during his final days designating Woods and Wright’s former attorney, Ronald L. Sweeney, as co-trustees, as well as several members of Wright’s family, including his mother and father.
According to Klein’s suit, Wright was heavily medicated and was “forced to sign” his trust and marriage certificate. The suit also alleges that Wright turned over half of the firm to Klein in 1992 and that money is now missing from a company bank account to which only Woods and Sweeney had access. Woods and Sweeney deny the allegations.
Rumors are also circulating in the music industry that the marriage and trust document were orchestrated by Woods and Sweeney to help Motown Records gain control of Ruthless.
Woods, who worked for six years as an assistant to Motown Chairman Clarence Avant, and Sweeney, who has done legal work for Avant frequently in the last decade, called the allegations “ridiculous.” Avant was out of the country, but Motown spokesman Michael Mitchell said the allegations were “totally unfounded.”
When the court-appointed accountant begins reviewing Ruthless’ books, however, former business associates said he may find that the company was facing financial problems even before Wright died.
Ruthless lost its biggest asset in 1991 when producer Andre (Dr. Dre) Young, the creative locomotive behind the firm’s strongest-selling albums, left the company after a financial dispute.
Since its inception, much of Ruthless’ glory and revenue stream has been derived from projects affiliated with Young. The firm receives about $1 million in combined annual royalty payments from Young and Priority Records, which in 1990 acquired the rights to N.W.A.’s early albums. Last year, Ruthless had hits with Eazy-E’s “It’s On (Dr. Dre. 187) Killa” and Bone Thugs-N-Harmony’s “Creepin’ On Ah Come Up,” which sold a combined 1.5 million copies.
Insiders said that Wright’s death significantly reduces the firm’s value because he ran the company and was its best-selling artist.