Longform

Fallout in the Family

Page 8 of 10

"No one in their right minds would come into a deal with us," says Mark.
In 1992, Moab held a big party to honor Charlie and M.L. Steen. The little red Jeep was there. It was a last public hurrah. But behind the scenes, things got ugly. According to Mark, Charles Jr. showed up uninvited, didn't talk to his parents, and was nasty and snarly. That, Mark says, finally prompted his mom to go home and rewrite her will.

M.L. and Charlie hoped that the third generation of Steens--their sons' children--would be able to work together. But after M.L. died last summer, the rift only deepened.

It took a while for Mark to even find the will. He says there's nothing suspicious about that; he just couldn't locate it. When he finally produced it, it was immediately challenged by Monica, Charles Jr.'s daughter, whom M.L. had loved and counted on to help mend the rift.

"When my mother died," Mark says bitterly, "I was grief-stricken. Monica was greed-stricken. She thinks there's some vast estate."

"She's really repaying her grandmother's love," Charlie's sister, Maxine, says of Monica. "M.L. would turn over in her grave if she knew what the grandkids are doing."

In her will, M.L. appointed Mark executor and left all her personal effects to him, John and her sister, Tera Wright. M.L. willed Charles Jr. exactly $1, "because of his role in the deliberate destruction of the Gold Hill Venture and the years of financial hardships and mental anguish that he caused his parents and relatives by his selfish ingratitude and dishonesty." Andy also got $1, for the same reasons; in his case, M.L. left out the word "selfish."

She didn't leave her shares in the family corporation, Mi Vida Enterprises, to any of her sons. Instead, she gave 30 percent to her sister Tera; 10 percent to Tera's daughter, Karla; 10 percent to Charles Jr.'s daughter Monica; 10 percent to Charles Jr.'s son Charles III; 20 percent to Andy's only child, Kirk, and 20 percent to Mark's child, Ashley.

Knowing that Mark would continue to take care of her husband, who now has Alzheimer's disease, M.L. left Charlie "such minimum share of my estate as shall be required by state law."

If there's anything left of the estate after the probate fight, that is. Already Monica has filed a blizzard of papers in Boulder District Court. Her father has chipped in with lengthy affidavits accusing Mark of all sorts of nefarious schemes, including duping relatives and plundering other estates. Mark denies doing such things and has added his own allegations that Charles III and Monica conspired to steal property, including expensive jewelry, that they claimed was owned by M.L. Mark points out that he purchased the stuff out of bankruptcy court years ago and "had given it to my parents for their use."

The court files include a particularly sordid scene, outlined in a police report filed by Mark, detailing a shoving match between Mark and Charles III's girlfriend last fall as the couple tried to leave M.L. and Charlie's townhome in Longmont with several loads of property. Also involved in the mess is Charles Jr.'s first wife, the mother of Monica and Charles III. And so is Kirk Steen, Andy's son, who lives in Reno. Originally a supporter of Mark, he has filed an affidavit saying that his uncle is not fit to be executor. Under M.L.'s will, if Mark is disqualified, Kirk would have a shot at becoming executor.

"Kirk believes that I sold some property for $350,000 and gave my mom $500," says an exasperated Mark. "I say, where's the deed? It didn't happen."

Forget about that trademark Steen loyalty. Mark derisively calls his brother "Charles the Fat" and defends himself vigorously. He points to a 1954 American Magazine article about M.L. by Denver journalist Bill Hosokawa, titled "Faith Is Her Fortune," that describes Charles Jr. as a "husky towhead of 6 and a half" and that says "Mark, at 3 and a half, shows every sign of having inherited his mother's steadfast loyalty."

Now Mark says Charles Jr. wants the potentially lucrative Moab property. "And they want to scorch my earth," he adds.

An administrator has been appointed to sort through the charges and countercharges. "We're just putting a bunch of lawyers' children through college," says Mark.

During their search for uranium, Charlie and M.L. lived through tough times--but nothing this ugly.

Charles Jr., now living in Buena Park, California, won't discuss the situation in detail. "I know there is another will," he says, before adding, "I have no public comment to make." Asked when he last saw his dad, he replies, "Did you hear me? Goodbye."

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Ward Harkavy
Contact: Ward Harkavy