Published May 31, 2012
LAS VEGAS – A judge granted Wayne Newton a temporary restraining order against his landlord Thursday amid stalled plans to turn his lavish Las Vegas estate into a celebrity museum — a project that has sparked allegations of fraud, mismanagement, animal abuse and sexual harassment.
Clark County District Court Judge Elizabeth Gonzalez ruled that developer Steve Kennedy must stay 50 feet away from the Newton family and their home, effectively putting the brakes on construction to turn Newton's Casa de Shenandoah estate into a tourist attraction.
Kennedy, the manager of CSD LLC, filed a lawsuit two weeks ago claiming the Newton family was unwilling to move out of the house so it could be converted into a museum. The Newtons filed counterclaims alleging breach of contract and fraud.
The legal wrangling paints an uncertain future for Newton's 40-acre estate featuring South African penguins, Arabian horses, celebrity memorabilia and 17th-century antiques imported from European castles.
Newton told reporters after Thursday's hearing that he regretted entering into the deal with Kennedy.
"Totally," Newton said. "I don't like vultures."
Newton lives in the main house on the estate with his wife and their 10-year-old daughter. Kennedy purchased the property for $20 million in 2010 with the intent of building the Newtons a new $2 million home on the estate and converting the gold-trimmed main house into a public venue.
In his lawsuit, Kennedy alleged the Newtons unreasonably delayed the project by refusing to pick a location for their new home. The Newtons countered that Kennedy failed to obtain proper construction permits and did not act in good faith.
"They had no intentions whatsoever of creating a museum honoring Wayne Newton," said Newton's lawyer, J. Stephen Peek, during the hearing.
Newton attended the hearing with his wife, Kathleen McCrone Newton, and her sister, Tricia McCrone, who also acts as the family's publicist and lives in a guest house on the estate. During the hearing, Newton and his wife wore broad smiles, even as McCrone Newton shook her head repeatedly as the allegations that she and her husband had not been cooperative were presented.
Peek claimed Kennedy tried to punish the Newton family by ordering that they banish their prized collection of 55 Arabian horses. Kennedy allegedly removed rose bushes throughout the property that had been planted by Newton's deceased mother. Newton was also prevented from accessing his antique car collection featuring a 1978 Rolls Royce Corniche convertible built for actor Steve McQueen and a one-of-a-kind Bentley Sedanca Coupe, according to the court filings.
The Newtons also said that improper construction at the home caused several leaks, threatening their expensive art collection that includes paintings by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Salvador Dali and Vincent van Gogh. The family also claimed Kennedy filled up an artisan well that Newton previously used as his "meditation pond."
Kennedy's attorney Charles McCrea Jr. countered that the home had a faulty roof and that the well reeked of sewage, with the toxic fumes having killed three penguins that lived on the estate.
McCrea Jr. said the Newtons must vacate the property so construction can continue. He cited concerns about who would cover the expense of caring for the property's many horses, with costs reaching $40,000 each month. CSD wants to donate the horses to a ranch that has expressed interest in adopting them.
The lawsuit claimed Newton sexually harassed a young female employee hired to train the horses by repeatedly kissing her on the mouth. The worker quit and has threatened to sue Newton and CSD, according to the lawsuit.
Newton said Kennedy and the woman had a personal relationship and that the woman begged for her job back after she was dismissed last year.
Kennedy declined to discuss the case as he was leaving the courtroom.
Newton said he hoped the museum will eventually open under a different owner.
"Time will tell if it is built," Newton said. "It will not be built under the present circumstances of management."
Both sides are expected to return to court on July 30.
Construction plans for the museum called for a zoo, visitors' center, car exhibition and a theater where Newton could perform live nightly. It was initially scheduled to open late last year.
Clark County building records show CSD received a notice of violation for working on the museum without a permit in October. The company later obtained the necessary paperwork in December.
Newton has lived at Casa de Shenandoah since 1968.